|By Jeff Harrington, Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.|
The loss sent the then-30-year-old widow spiraling into a deep depression, her sole solace knowing she and her 6-year-old daughter had a financial lifeline. Dion had left behind a
On the advice of a cousin, Tamesha contacted a financial advisor named
Then her new nightmare began.
Sitting down with the
"The hardest life lessons for me," she said, "have hit me in my pocketbook and in my heart."
First rule of thumb for investing: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But in the months following her husband's death, Stubbs was hardly thinking rationally.
She was so severely depressed she couldn't leave the house. She couldn't even get out of bed. Her mother had to take care of her young daughter, leaving Stubbs feeling even more isolated.
No problem, said Freeman, who came back a week later with a financial plan in hand.
Stubbs said she asked Freeman why she would invest in mutual funds if oil and gas is such a good thing.
"He smiled and he agreed," she said. "He said oil and gas is a very hot thing right now and the price per barrel was sky high. He assured me I couldn't lose with those investments, that I'd never have to work again. And that I could sell them at any time for no risk."
Freeman remembers the conversation differently. It was Stubbs, he insists, who was eager to put more money into oil and gas than he had recommended because she was wary about the stock market.
In either case, Stubbs said she didn't know Freeman had established a side agreement with businessman
Stubbs said she met with Freeman and Robinson at Robinson's
In return for writing a check for
At the time, Stubbs didn't know that neither Freeman nor Robinson was licensed to sell securities in
Over the coming months, she became friends with Freeman and his wife, along with Robinson. They went to a comedy club together and dined at restaurants like the
That budding friendship led her to trust Freeman and Robinson more. And invest more, signing another
The leases were real; but she was grossly overpaying for her tiny stake.
Documents showed that, in return for her
In reality, the properties were duds. They produced so few barrels of oil before the leases expired that Stubbs was entitled to only two small payouts in late 2008 from the properties — about
That's not what her investment advisors told her, though.
In June of 2008, she received a check from Robinson for
It was actually just an inducement to invest more.
She was persuaded to write another check for
In early July, Robinson made a pitch for another property he called the "Yellowcake" parcel because it supposedly had uranium ore under it. She withdrew
In August, Robinson approached Stubbs seeking a loan to ramp up production. Over the next few months, Stubbs agreed to lend
"(Robinson) gave very specific details about what he could do to get those wells pumping," she said. "He was just very convincing for some reason. I think I was hitting peak depression at that point … and I just bought it."
By late November of 2008 — less than a year after her first investment in the oil and gas leases — all of Stubbs' life insurance proceeds were gone. She had spent nearly
The new year hit Stubbs hard.
Behind on her mortgage, she began receiving foreclosure notices from
While still pursuing an associate's degree at
Still, there was scant return on her
Freeman remained encouraging, promising Stubbs in one email: "Your patience will not go unrewarded,"
By the spring of 2009, Stubbs had run out of patience.
In an email to Freeman, she lashed out that Robinson had only repaid her
At her mother's urging, she finally sought legal help. But several attorneys turned her down, saying even if she won, she was unlikely to get any money back.
Through credit card records, bank statements and depositions, Ilgenfritz unraveled the mystery of where the money went.
During a deposition, Ilgenfritz said, Robinson told him that he was entertaining people in the oil and gas business, but he could not name any of them.
Following a bench trial,
"For the last 30 years, the people of
Agreeing that punitive damages were warranted, he tripled the award, ruling Stubbs was owed
Though Ilgenfritz doubts Stubbs will ever see that money, he wants to increase the likelihood of some compensation by filing an involuntary bankruptcy against Freeman and Robinson. In bankruptcy, paying back the
"We might pursue that to shake the tree as hard as we can," Ilgenfritz said. "I told the judge I want to hound these guys for the rest of their lives. … Well, I plan on retiring at some point. But I'll certainly continue to hound them. The judgment is good for 21 years."
Stubbs contacted the
Freeman, now 51, insists he never knew the investment he pitched would be considered a security — something he was banned from selling. He plans to appeal. He also said he wasn't involved in Stubbs' decision to loan Robinson nearly
"She just kept writing checks to (Robinson) toward the end. I think that was negligent on her part," he said. "She should take some responsibility."
Freeman said he's known Robinson for 20 years and trusted him that the oil leases would eventually pay off. "He's not like a bad guy. I think he realizes he messed up," he said. "I'm not sure it was done maliciously." Contacted last week, Robinson, 71, said he had no comment.
Today, Stubbs works in accounts payable for a
"I just want to get on my feet again," she said. "A lot of people have lost their houses and a lot of people in America have debt and student loans. I'm not too different from anyone else. But to think about what it could have been? It's tough."
"I lost my grandmother and my father and my husband all in less than three years. Then losing a house and a million dollars on top of that? It can break you."
Stubbs says she realizes going public opens her up to ridicule from those who see her as foolish. But she hopes it increases awareness about how debilitating depression can be, how it can cloud your judgment.
She wants others to learn to avoid making financial decisions when depressed and to seek outside opinions before acting. She wants others to know how to check with agencies like the
And she has one more motivation: to keep Robinson and Freeman from hurting anyone else. "I want people to know their names so they can look out for them."
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