CLEVELAND (WJW) – The trial of a financial advisor accused of stealing nearly $10 million from clients through a Ponzi scheme concluded Friday with Raymond Erker taking the stand in his own defense.
Federal prosecutors allege 50-year-old Erker, of Avon, orchestrated a scheme in which he and two co-conspirators diverted dozens of investors’ money for personal use, including a home purchase and renovation.
During the trial that began in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Tuesday, prosecutors presented evidence including bank records and financial documents. The jury is expected to begin deliberations next week.
“It’s embarrassing, it’s hard for me to swallow because I thought it was a safe investment,” victim Tom Flavelle, of North Ridgeville, said.
He said he and his wife lost nearly $500,000 they had intended to use for retirement and to pass on to their children.
“It was supposed to be a safe investment,” Flavelle said. “The first question I would ask him is, ‘Is our money safe?’ And he says ‘Yes, like a rock.’”
Prosecutors said Erker and the co-defendants misled clients who thought they were making low or no-risk investments with a guaranteed rate of return.
Investigators allege the conspirators, who had an office in Westlake, falsely represented that payments to previous investors were rates of return and interest when they were actually new investor funds.
Co-defendants Tara Brunst, 47, of Olmsted Falls, and Kevin Krantz, 56, of Olmsted Falls, previously pleaded guilty to charges for their involvement.
Vivian McLaughlin, who testified against Erker, said he stole about $250,000 from her parents, Robert and Rosemary Edmonds. She said Erker had been a trusted longtime family friend.
“When we found out, we were distraught, scared, devastated,” she said. “The very first thought, I couldn’t believe it. Then the next thought was if he did this to us, there has to be more.”
Bridget De Chagas said her mother, Margaret Whalen, invested her life savings earned from being a maternity nurse and lost about $220,000, including money she relied on for medications.
Whalen passed away about three weeks before the trial began.
“I stand here today and I know she’s here with me and proud of me for seeing this through in trying to hold Ray accountable so other victims, it doesn’t happen again,” De Chagas said. “I think Ray Erker didn’t really steal my mother’s money, I think he stole her peace of mind.”
On the stand Friday, Erker maintained he did nothing wrong.
When prosecutors questioned if he had asked investors’ permission to use their money for personal use, Erker replied, “By virtue of their signature, I would say that’s a yes.”
Several victims said they do not expect to get the stolen money back but hope for a guilty verdict and legal changes that will prevent others from falling victim.
“For the victims, we’ve got to live with it for the rest of our lives,” Flavelle said.