SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Investors say an Oceanside company that promised a green and environmentally friendly way for people to invest their money, instead left them with nothing.
Team 10 has spoken to multiple people who said they invested with the Pacific Teak Reforestation Project, managed and developed by Pacific Management Group.
On the company’s website, Ron Fleming is listed as PMG’s founder and chairman of the board. The website states the reforestation project “provides individuals, businesses, and institutions around the world with the opportunity to build their financial future, while saving one of the earth’s most precious and scarce natural habitats: the tropical rainforest.”
The company said as the trees matured and grew larger, so did profits. The website stated that "in the time it takes teak trees to grow from seedlings to maturity--after only 15 full years of growth--[the] asset's value will likely increase as many as ten times based on historical price trends." Investors would then benefit from that profit.
Mark Baker, who lives in Tucson, said he and Fleming grew up together and their mothers were best friends. In 2010, he invested $64,000 of his retirement money into Pacific Teak.
“That money to me was going to be part of my legacy to help my grandkids go to school,” Baker said.
In 2014, he said he invested another $150,000. To this day, he said he has not received any return on that investment. “I’ve had to make a plan B for my retirement,” Baker said.
Team 10 spoke to at least six people who invested with Pacific Teak. Their teak tree purchase agreements show the investors paid anywhere from nearly $17,000 to nearly $300,000 for a teak tree project in Costa Rica.
“It was a green investment... they were planting and they were redeveloping land that had been the victim of slash and burn techniques by the locals,” said Greg Robertson, another investor who currently lives in Rome, Italy.
Robertson met Fleming on a flight in the late 1990s. “That developed into a friendship,” he said.
He invested nearly $90,000 in the project. “This was a very green project. It was long term,” he said. “It was all positives.”
It was positive at first, but Robertson said it changed as time went on.
“No monthly letters or annual business account letters... nothing. Zero,” Robertson said. “It was unusual.”
Michael Tillman said he put in more than $17,000 with Pacific Teak in early 2009. He has not received any money on his investment.
“It’s just the stress of trying to figure out where I’m going to recoup this money to send my daughter to school,” Tillman said.
Tillman said investors were given teak forecasters, which showed how much trees gained in value over the years. “So, I’m looking at the low end which is $54,000... and I’m thinking, that’ll cover maybe a semester or two,” he said.
Tilllman said he started to sense something was wrong a couple years ago when they stopped hearing from Fleming. Tillman got in contact with other investors, like Baker and Robertson, and discovered many people had not received any return on investment. “I’m already stressed out because for so long, I thought that it was taken care of,” Tillman said.
Team 10 reached Fleming via email. He said he “resigned himself from executive position in Pacific Management Group the later part of 2013 due to health issues.” He also said that he left prior to Hurricane Otto in 2016, which he alleged caused catastrophic damage to the project.”
The investors said they were not aware of Fleming’s retirement in 2013, as he never communicated that to them. The investors also said they were not informed of any hurricane damage until after they questioned Fleming for updates.
“I was devastated. I never thought it was part of his character,” Baker said.
A spokesperson with the Department of Business Oversight—which is now the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation—said Fleming was not supposed to operate in California. The DBO issued a desist and refrain order in 2016. It said Pacific Teak and Pacific Management Group did not have the proper permit to be in business. In addition, the state found the company “misrepresented that investors would receive substantial profits.”
It also found the company was in violation of the Corporate Securities Law. The state said Fleming and the company “misrepresented to investors this investment opportunity was low- risk.”
Fleming never responded to Team 10’s follow up questions, only writing that he was “super busy” with his youngest daughter getting married.
Fleming’s attorney contacted Team 10, telling me the “matter is complex and there are many unfounded rumors, along with misstatements, that have been circulating.
“The fact is that Mr. Fleming has done nothing unethical in connection with his association with Pacific Management from which he resigned in 2013. I would request that you and your employer be very careful in what you publish in this matter,” wrote attorney Dominic Amorosa.
He added in a separate email: "I am not sure whether you can find any investor in the United States who believes that an investment must necessarily be successful notwithstanding any foreseeable or unforeseeable events."
The investors are still in disbelief about the turn of events and hope they will able to recoup some of their money.
“He didn’t care about us at all, just about himself,” Robertson said.
“He messed up so many lives. So many lives,” Baker added.
Investors said they reported Fleming to the FBI. A spokesperson said they could not confirm or deny any investigation, but will take appropriate action if it is warranted.