The proposal concerns a joint venture that promises a 100 percent return on every $5,000 invested with Neville LLC, a company Marie Champagne formed in 2006, according to the Georgia Secretary of State's Office.
Rory McNaughton, a member of a group of Atlanta investors, said his group was poised to send $35,000 to a trust account managed by Champagne's attorney, Sue Reimer, of Columbia County. They changed their minds after reading The Augusta Chronicle's 2008 investigative report on the fallout from the financial deals involving Champagne and her daughter and son-in-law, Regina and Charles Preetorius.
In the Augusta area, the family ran S.D.A. & Associates, a company they claimed could help homeowners in danger of foreclosure, find buyers for their homes and return a 12 percent profit to investors, who were guaranteed safety through the issuance of security deeds on properties. The Preetoriuses eventually filed for bankruptcy, and more than 40 homes went into foreclosure, 12 bankruptcies were filed and investors lost nearly $3.7 million, according to property and court records.
Several people who lost homes and life savings told The Chronicle that the FBI has interviewed them about the family's financial dealings.
Federal agents won't confirm or deny a criminal investigation, however.
McNaughton is one of several people who have contacted the newspaper since its Aug. 17, 2008, story on the Preetoriuses and Champagne.
"Check out the attached business proposal (Marie's listed in there) that sounds to me like they're up to antics similar to that in the articles you wrote," McNaughton said in a recent e-mail.
According to the business outline for Head Start Homes, it is supposed to work this way: Neville buys a home "at the wholesale price," does repairs and rehab of property, then sells it at fair market value to a buyer already qualified through its own mortgage program.
The process takes about three weeks, the outline states. Investors put up $5,000, and when the house is closed on, they get back their initial investment plus $5,000, for a 100 percent return.
"Enclosed we have also submitted a list of homes that we have personally placed families into," the business outline states.
The list has 51 properties with addresses in Richmond and Columbia counties. While a few were sold successfully, many more were properties that passed through the Preetoriuses and Champagne before ending in foreclosure, property records show. Ten of the properties, according to county property records, were never in their control.
The current owner of one home on Colonial Drive is listed as Carolina Investments LLC, a company registered and organized by Reimer in March 2005, although it was administratively dissolved in May 2008.
Three calls and an e-mail to Reimer -- containing what the Atlanta investors were told was the information needed to wire the money to Reimer's trust account -- were not returned last week. Contact information for Champagne could not be located.
In a February 2009 deposition, Champagne -- who is being sued by an S.D.A. investor who lost $50,000 -- admitted she is not a licensed real estate agent, though she worked for her daughter in the buying and selling of real estate.
At the time of the deposition, she said she had just applied for a job with a company that works with people who are behind on their mortgages. Champagne lost three homes to foreclosures in 2008 and 2009.
When confronted with The Chronicle's article by the Atlanta investors, Champagne claimed that it was all false and that the newspaper was forced to remove the stories from the Internet.
The Chronicle stands by its report and has not removed any stories from the Internet.
Champagne also downplayed her 1989 federal conviction for mail fraud, claiming she didn't have an attorney and was coerced into pleading guilty, according to another potential investor, Latisha Bell.
According to the newspaper's reports in 1989, Champagne was sentenced to two years in prison for her role in a multistate scam that promised her company, Financial Business Brokers, could get million-dollar loans for businesses. She was also ordered to repay victims more than $800,000.
Some of the properties Champagne claims were bought and sold "with the team we currently have in place" also are listed in the Preetoriuses' bankruptcy petition. The bankruptcy case is still open.
Regina Preetorius, who gave the court a home address in Aztec, N.M., completed the court-required financial counseling course in March. According to a court document filed May 15, she attended the course at a Macon, Ga., consumer credit counseling service.
Though Champagne told potential investors in Atlanta that she has numerous properties available, statewide property records show her last property transactions were the July 2009 foreclosure on her Wind Mill Lane home and the March 2009 foreclosure of her Southgate Drive rental home.