This June 27, 2012 photo made available by Beattie Ashmore, shows more than $350,000 in solar panels that are among t[auth] he assets a receiver is wrangling in an alleged $90 million Ponzi scheme in Woodruff, S.C. The panels are part of a Woodruff farm owned by Ronnie Wilson, whom federal prosecutors have accused of taking millions of dollars from investors through his business but never actually bought them the silver bullion he promised. (AP Photo/Beattie Ashmore)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — With several months to go before any possible trial, a court-appointed attorney has begun sifting through the assets of a former Anderson County council member accused of running a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme.
Greenville attorney Beattie Ashmore said he has a website up and running for investors who fear they were hoodwinked by Ronnie Wilson and his gold and silver bullion business. There, they can sign up to take part if the assets are split up in the future.
“We’re still in the information-gathering mode,” Ashmore said last week. “We’ve been reviewing books and court records.”
Wilson also is a former member of the state Board of Education and national commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He was charged in April with mail fraud after authorities said he took millions of dollars from investors through his business, Atlantic Bullion & Coin, but never actually bought them the silver bullion he promised.
Wilson told investigators that he bought the silver and shipped it off to customers in 25 states, but he told employees and his customers that the silver was kept in a depository in Delaware. One employee told federal authorities she never saw any silver in the office or any paperwork from the depository, an assertion backed up by U.S. Secret Service investigators.
Authorities have said more than 900 people invested about $90 million with Wilson, who changed receipts to keep the scheme going and lost nearly $60 million of clients’ money. Wilson was originally scheduled to appear in court in May, but his federal case has been delayed until August. His bank accounts have been frozen, and Wilson is out of jail on $1 million bond. His attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Several other investigations against Wilson are ongoing. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission has charged him with fraud, allegations that mirror federal prosecutors’ charges but focus solely on the $11.5 million Wilson allegedly got from investors between Aug. 15 and February of this year. State prosecutors have also accused Wilson of ignoring a 1996 order that he stop selling securities — something state law did not require him to tell his customers about.
As the receiver, it’s up to Ashmore to take inventory of Wilson’s assets and accounts while the federal case is ongoing. Those assets include silver bars and 55 shotguns seized by authorities, as well as Wilson’s home.
Ashmore is also charged with developing a list of investors who would share the profits if a judge orders that Wilson’s assets be liquidated. To that end, Ashmore has set up a website and telephone number, and calls have started coming in from potential beneficiaries.
One of those assets is Live Oak Farms, a working farm set on 80 acres in Woodruff and listed in state records as incorporated by Wilson’s wife, Cassie, in 2007. Advertising itself as family-owned and operated, Live Oak says it specializes in raising heritage breeds of poultry, sheep, horses and cattle. Wilson’s daughter and her husband run the property.
Last week, Ashmore toured the farm, which is dotted with barns, stables, and a store that offers jellies, cheeses and fresh meat. In addition to the property itself — which also includes $360,000 worth of solar panels — Ashmore is tasked with assessing the value of the livestock and the goods that they produce.
“Sheep, cows, horses and everything has got to be properly managed,” Ashmore said.
Taking care of these assets is different work than in other receiverships, where goods can range from luxury vehicles to vacation homes or boxes at sporting arenas. Ashmore also served as receiver in the “3 Hebrew Boys” case, in which three South Carolina men are serving decades in prison for their roles in an $80 million investment scam.
In the Wilson case, Ashmore said he has worked out a plan with the animals’ caretakers to ensure that they are kept healthy and in good shape while the case goes forward.
“We have an arrangement with them that allows us to take care of these animals,” Ashmore said.
In the 3 Hebrew Boys case, which began in 2007, the first round of checks was finally mailed out to investors earlier this year. But that case took several years to take to trial, and Ashmore said he didn’t expect it would take as long for Wilson’s investors to see compensation, if it’s ordered by the court.
“That does not appear to be the case in Mr. Wilson’s situation,” he said.