SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A San Diego-based financial investment advisor is being accused of running a Ponzi scheme targeting mostly elderly victims who planning for retirement, and taking more than $6 million, according to bankruptcy court records.
Sharon and David Vega said they started working with Christopher Dougherty about 17 years ago. A few years ago, Sharon Vega said that he recommended to take money “out of the TD Ameritrade and place it in private placement in farm subsidy accounts.”
The Vegas trusted him and placed approximately $30,000 in these new accounts. They said they continued to receive statements showing how their money was doing, but they started to see red flags. Sharon Vega said when checks bounced, Dougherty gave various excuses.
She showed Team 10 one bounced check where Dougherty claimed “there was a mix-up at the bank.” They decided to sever ties and asked for their money back.
“He said no problem, he would start on it right away,” Sharon Vega said. However, she said that did not happen.
She showed Team 10 several text messages from Dougherty late August into early September promising their money. One message said the transfer was “already in motion. Should see it shortly.”
“We have not received any funds back. He filed bankruptcy and he’s trying to have ours discharged with many other people’s,” Vega said. She said the $30,000 was money they had been saving to try and help their grandchildren with college.
In bankruptcy court documents, the United States Trustee wrote Dougherty’s “deception is the basis of a Ponzi scheme.”
“[Their] practice of using new investment money to pay existing investors dividends and principal gave the false impression that the payments received by investors came from earnings and profits or from a return of their principal,” the documents said.
“It’s devastating,” said Jerry, another former client of Dougherty. He and his wife declined to use their last name.
Jerry and his wife Diane told Team 10 they invested more than $1 million with Dougherty over the years. At first, it was with traditional accounts. They said he later convinced them to invest in an Alpine farm. They thought they were diversifying their retirement money, but what they know now is everything they saved for is gone and what happened to their funds is unclear. Like Sharon and David Vega, they said Dougherty kept sending them statements.
“We rely upon our children now,” Jerry said. “We can’t even afford a burial plot.”
In 2011, Dougherty was charged for stealing money from a youth baseball league. He was ultimately sentenced to three years summary probation, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Team 10 attempted to contact Dougherty and his wife, Nereida, who is also named in the bankruptcy documents. They did not respond. An attorney for the Doughertys also did not respond to Team 10’s inquiries. Investigator Melissa Mecija visited the Alpine ranch connected to the couple, where a tenant said his power has been shut off three times in the last several months. It was a bill he said the Doughertys were supposed to pay.
Sharon Vega said she tries to stay strong as she deals with multiple setbacks, including her husband’s larynx cancer. “He was diagnosed… when all of this happened,” she said.
Lt. Kevin Menzies with the Sheriff’s Department confirmed there is an open investigation, with ten alleged victims currently identified.
The Securities and Exchange Commission also has an open investigation into Dougherty.