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Restitution ordered in Ponzi scheme

‘He left me with nothing,’ one victim testifies in court

Collins

– Bradley Collins tithed regularly to his church on the money he made as a percentage of investments he collected from his friends and family.

But Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck was more concerned with the lack of restitution Collins, 56, has paid since his October arrest on multiple charges of fraud – what those investments turned out to be, according to investigators with the secretary of state’s office and prosecutors.

And while Collins told his assembled victims he had “great remorse” or felt “great regret,” he did not say he was sorry for what he did.

“I never had any intent (to defraud the investors),” Collins said, suggesting if they thought about it, they would agree with him.

Collins was ordered to pay $2.3 million in restitution to his victims. His statements, and his sentence to two years in work release, didn’t sit well with those who were selling off their homes or trying to figure out how to keep the lights on after he dumped their retirement incomes in a Ponzi scheme.

Nearly 60 residents of Allen County were victimized by Collins, according to the Indiana Secretary of State’s Office.

“He’s a piece of (expletive),” John Vodde said after a sentencing hearing Friday morning in Allen Superior Court.

Vodde is one several local residents trying to make ends meet after losing money to Collins. During the hearing, Vodde carried his oxygen tank with him as he came up to the microphone to tell the court how hard it has been since he invested in Collins’ trust fund.

He said Collins assured him the investments were safe, and he received monthly payments for a little while.

“After a year, it was gone,” Vodde said.

When he would call and ask to talk to Collins, he was not given any answers.

“(Collins) would say, ‘Well, just pray that everything works out,’ ” Vodde said. “He took advantage of my religion. He left me with nothing.”

Another victim told the court that Collins always promised him and his late wife the money was on its way.

“He was a God-fearing man,” Don Poorman said. “He sat right at our table, drank coffee with us and promised us.”

Collins was charged in October with corrupt business influence, money laundering, selling unregistered securities, being an unregistered broker/dealer of securities and five counts of securities fraud.

He pleaded guilty last month to a single charge of selling unregistered securities. The additional charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Investigators believe Collins and David McQueen engaged in a Ponzi scheme using religious affinity to close the deal with investors.

They estimate that Indiana victims of Collins and McQueen have lost more than $30 million.

Last year, Collins was ordered to repay $837,561 to about a dozen victims who filed a pair of lawsuits against him and his brother, who is not charged in the criminal case.

The two men, though, were affiliated with McQueen, a Michigan man under a federal fraud indictment, accused of conning nearly $50 million from victims.

Federal court documents filed in Michigan accuse McQueen and others of using religious affinity to target and attract elderly investors, according to court documents.

A new federal indictment was filed against McQueen this year.

McQueen has not been charged locally. But McQueen’s name is all over the Allen Superior Court documents compiled by investigators with the Indiana Secretary of State’s Securities Division when prosecutors filed the charges against Collins.

McQueen, a licensed insurance agent in Michigan from 1998 to 2008, founded several investment funds, including the Accelerated Income Group, International Opportunity Consultants and Diversified Global Finance.

Prosecutors allege that between Jan. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2010, Collins acted as a sales agent for McQueen and his three investment funds. He received commissions of 1 percent to 2 percent.

According to testimony in Friday’s hearing, that netted Collins about $1.7 million to $3.4 million.

In various meetings with potential investors, Collins assured them he and McQueen were “good Christian men” and that “God had brought Collins and McQueen together.”

Collins’ Christian faith was often at the forefront of his connection to his investors, a practice Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Tim McCaulay said is called affinity fraud.

In the federal indictment, McQueen is accused of telling “unwitting investors” that he and his associates were Christians who preferred to deal “with God-fearing, churchgoing people,” and that it was a “blessing to be blessing” potential investors with the opportunity to hand over their money.

During the sentencing hearing, Surbeck noticed Collins tried to portray himself as a victim, something he immediately corrected.

“If you were ignorant, it was by choice,” Surbeck said. “I think you’d do it again, and I think you’d invoke the name of the Lord to do it.

“You haven’t really accepted a whole lot of responsibility. You’re still working your tail off to avoid being the guy who bilked a whole lot of people out of a whole lot of money,” Surbeck said.

As part of his probation, Collins must testify truthfully against McQueen and the others named in the federal indictment.

Surbeck ordered Collins to pay $2.3 million in restitution and suggested he could have sold his own home to make a start on it.

rgreen@jg.net

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