BUFORD -- Federal officials are investigating a Buford investment manager accused of swindling clients -- including his girlfriend's mother and grandfather -- out of more than $2 million.
The U.S Securities and Exchange Commission recently filed civil action against 36-year-old Blake Richards, the owner of Lanier Wealth Management. According to documents filed by the SEC, he spent about five years bilking at least half a dozen investors by misappropriating their funds.
"At least two of these investors are elderly, and the majority of the apparently misappropriated funds constituted retirement savings and/or life insurance proceeds from deceased spouses," the commission's complaint said.
Beginning in 2008, Richards reportedly instructed clients looking to invest funds to write checks directly to a separate pair of entities he controlled. He told them he would use those entities to invest their money in life insurance, fixed-income assets, annuities or stocks.
He then began siphoning off that money for his personal use, authorities said.
"When the customer asked Richards to liquidate investments," the complaint said, "Richards issued draws to the investors from their 'accounts' via either cashier's check, personal check or, in one case, a personal appearance at a branch of a bank to write out a deposit slip."
Two of Richards' alleged victims were relatives of his girlfriend -- her recently widowed mother and 81-year-old grandfather.
In October 2008, Richards' girlfriend's mother reportedly came to him with about $1 million, the vast majority of which was from her late husband's IRA. Though Richards fought hard to cover his alleged misdeeds for several years, the woman was recently informed she had but $309,000 remaining, the complaint said.
Richards' girlfriend's grandfather also gave Richard about $440,000 in IRA funds. Those funds are now down to about $25, according to authorities.
Richards operated Lanier Wealth Management as a local branch of Massachusetts-based LPL Financial, but the SEC said his activities with that company (and actual clients) were essentially non-existent over the last several years.
LPL spokeswoman Betsy Weinberger said in a statement that none of the funds allegedly misused by Richards came from actual LPL accounts or clients.
"Once an LPL advisor informed the company of allegations of misappropriated funds, LPL immediately launched an internal investigation which resulted in the termination of Mr. Richards," Weinberger said in an email. "The company also immediately notified regulators and law enforcement authorities, including SEC, (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), State of Georgia, the FBI, and local law enforcement."