Janesville36.7°

Faith and fraud: Clients claim Janesville man mixes both

Print Print
MARCIA A. NELESEN
June 20, 2010
— Some people who have dealt with businessman and minister Brad Goodrich wonder why he isn’t in jail.

“He claims to be a minister,” said Jennifer Valley of Greener Valley Landscaping. “But nothing about the way he lives his life is Godly to me.”


She and her husband have a $28,000 lien on Goodrich’s $700,000 home on the Rock River.


“It’s very upsetting to see how many families he has hurt in this community,” Valley said.


Claims against Goodrich totaling more than $1 million have stacked up in the Rock County Courthouse. Some are filed by people who did work for Goodrich but say they weren’t paid. A bank is suing to cover bounced checks. Others allege Goodrich stole money through various investment schemes.


The state issued an order in March that contained specific allegations of securities fraud and prohibited Goodrich and any company controlled by him from making any future offers or sales of investment securities in Wisconsin. The order also prohibited Goodrich from transacting any future business activity as an investment adviser or other securities professional.


Goodrich said Wednesday that the state has a vendetta against him. He said he didn’t pay the Valleys and other contractors because they didn’t do the work to his satisfaction. He said he did not defraud clients.


Goodrich said he and his clients are being squeezed by the downturn in the economy and the sour real estate market.


‘House of cards’

Investigators at the state Department of Financial Institutions have had their eyes on Goodrich for years. He was discharged by a financial services firm in 1999. Since then, he has been sanctioned by the state twice for his investment practices.


The latest lawsuit was filed June 11. In it, five of Goodrich’s former clients accuse him of diverting investment funds—much of it retirement money—for Goodrich’s own use. Goodrich has refused to give the clients their money back despite repeated requests, according to the lawsuit.


Attorney Duffy Dillon represents the five former clients suing Goodrich to recover more than $875,500 lost to what they say were fraudulent advice and investments.


Goodrich has been conducting a “variant of a Ponzi scheme” and has profited from the fraudulent sale of investments, the lawsuit alleges.


“It’s caving in on him,” said Lloyd La Reau, founder of Lloyd’s Plumbing and Heating.


La Reau is one of the five who filed suit June 11.


He and his wife, Sharon, are suing Goodrich for $360,000 in retirement money that he says was fraudulently invested.


“He’s using one account to fund another,” La Reau said. “He’s got a house of cards, and he’s doing some scrambling.”


When told of La Reau’s comments, Goodrich hesitated and then said, “OK. Is that wrong that I’m a product of this recession? We are equating right with success, and wrong with failure.”


La Reau said Goodrich lied about the investments where he put their money. La Reau said Goodrich is a smooth talker who used his title of minister to gain his trust.


Religious foundation

Goodrich runs the Ekklasia foundation in the Lovejoy manor at 220 St. Lawrence Ave. Because the foundation was formed to support the creation of Christian churches, some of the Lovejoy manor was not taxed.


Online searches did not reveal information about the foundation, and the building is in foreclosure. Goodrich said Ekklasia suffers today from a lack of donations and has not “planted” a church for a couple of years.


Ekklasia owns his 4,372-square-foot home in the Town of Fulton, and Goodrich in 2009 asked the town for tax-exempt status on the property, which is assessed at $768,900. The town declined.


Goodrich is now delinquent on the property taxes for his home.


State ruling

In March, the Department of Financial Institutions ruled that Goodrich defrauded nine customers out of about $1.8 million. Some of the nine eventually hired Dillon to file suit against Goodrich.


The state ordered that Goodrich not sell any more securities, including promissory notes, regulated by the state. The state has no jurisdiction on securities regulated by the federal government or those sold in other states.


Goodrich said his attorney missed the deadline to appeal the state ruling. He said he would continue to pursue an appeal.


Goodrich said the state omitted facts in their decision. He said state investigators have a vendetta against him because they have a bias against people who mix ministry and finances.


Goodrich has run into trouble with his investment dealings before. He was licensed as a securities agent with National Planning Corporation from 1993 to 1999 but was discharged after an internal review.


He was registered with the state as an investment advisor representative through his own company, the Argurion Group, from February 2000 through June 2005, but his license was suspended for five months in 2001.


In September 2004, Goodrich formed a hedge fund, SAAF, so he could recommend that his clients invest in funds without him being registered as an investment advisor, according to the state report.


Goodrich enlisted Leslie Fregien, a state-registered investment adviser, to act as an investment adviser for Goodrich’s clients so Goodrich could claim he was only advising his various funds and not the investors, according to the state report. Many of Goodrich’s clients, however, said they dealt exclusively with Goodrich.


The clients in the most recent lawsuit charge that Goodrich misrepresented the accounts where he invested their money.


The clients and the state say Goodrich issued private placement memorandums, similar to prospectuses, only after Goodrich received investors’ money.


Goodrich told the plaintiffs that the two private investment funds he created, Esquire and SAAF, would earn excellent, stable returns and that the investments were liquid, the lawsuit alleges.


The lawsuit states the funds were never profitable and existed so Goodrich could divert the money to himself or related entities.


“He did not disclose to his clients that he was no longer a registered investment advisor, that the securities were not liquid, that he could not be removed as manager of Esquire because of his controlling interest in the company and that he had total discretion over Esquire and SAAF,” all in violation of state law, according to the state report.


The lawsuit claims Goodrich violated his duties in managing money.


Goodrich met some of his clients during his days as a broker. He met one client in the mid-1990s when he gave a retirement presentation at an assisted-living center where the woman worked. Another client was the widow of a minister whom Goodrich met through his church-building efforts, according to the state.


Other claims

Claims against Goodrich show a pattern of not paying people contracted to do work for him.


For instance, the architect who drew up the plans for Goodrich’s proposed assisted-living facility on Parker Drive has filed an $116,000 lien against the property.


Valley said people do the work, and then Goodrich says it wasn’t done right. Goodrich almost ruined Valley’s fledgling company when he didn’t pay the $28,000 landscaping bill for his home on Stone Farm Road, she said.


Valley can’t describe the bitterness, the sickness she felt in her stomach and the sleepless nights.


She wonders why Goodrich is not in jail.


Among other suits:


-- Steven Barbeau claims he gave Goodrich $530,000 to open a restaurant at 2626 Old Humes Road, in the former Asian Buffet. It is owned by Goodrich, Village Plaza Partnership and other Goodrich companies. Barbeau claims Goodrich used the money to pay debts on other projects and to fund his personal day-trading business without Barbeau’s consent. Barbeau is asking for his money back and for the restaurant equipment and décor he purchased.


Goodrich countered that he has spent more than $500,000 on the restaurant and that Barbeau went back on the deal to open one there. Goodrich said Barbeau “decided he was overcharged.”


-- Ramon Ruiz claims he gave Goodrich the Village Plaza property at 2604 Old Humes Road in 2005 in exchange for shares in Esquire and a monthly income. Goodrich has stopped disbursing the monthly payments, according to the lawsuit. Goodrich also is accused of selling $283,000 of the Ruiz’s shares, some of it without Ruiz’s knowledge. Ruiz has not received the money.


Goodrich said Ruiz redeemed more than $700,000 of his shares. He said Ruiz is suing because he is mad Goodrich fired him as property manager. Goodrich accused Ruiz of wrongdoing.


Retirement money

Lloyd La Reau met Goodrich through a mutual acquaintance and beginning in 2004 gave Goodrich a total of $360,00 to invest.


“Sharon and I were having some problems with some investments,” La Reau said. “It seemed that the people investing were more interested in buying and selling stock for their commission. And here’s a guy—he’s a Christian guy, a minister of a church. We (thought), ‘We can trust him.’”


The La Reaus said Goodrich diverted their money from IRAs and stocks and bonds into real estate, sometimes without their consent. Goodrich owned the real estate.


La Reau said Goodrich told them they could get their money back with a three-day notice.


The La Reaus began feeling nervous after Goodrich didn’t pay for a plumbing job at the Village Plaza.


In September 2008, they sent him withdrawal forms asking for their money back.


“We might as well have saved the stamps,” La Reau said.


The couple still receive glossy updates on the inflated status of their money, Sharon La Reau said. The brochure looks professional and includes a nice photo of Goodrich.


“If you don’t have a need for that particular money, or you’re not aware, you’d say, ‘Are we ever doing well. Life is good,’” Lloyd La Reau said.


The La Reaus’ lawsuit claims that the glossy reports lie about the various funds and their profitability, and the lawsuit alleges the reports were an integral part of the plan to defraud and to conceal a fraudulent scheme.


The La Reaus said their son also gave Goodrich money from his IRA, but he isn’t a member of the suit because he doesn’t have the money to join them.


The La Reaus didn’t give Goodrich all of their money. They can live on what they have, although there are some things they wanted to do that they no longer can. Sharon La Reau worries about not having enough money if something catastrophic happens.


The La Reaus are suing Goodrich even though they doubt the money is there, especially with the drop in the real estate market. They don’t know how much equity Goodrich has in the properties.


They are suing to warn the public at large.


Goodrich responds

Goodrich defended himself, saying Lloyd La Reau became angry and asked for his money after Goodrich didn’t pay his plumbing bill. Goodrich has since paid the plumbing bill.


Goodrich said he is struggling because his tenants cannot pay their rent and so he no longer has a positive cash flow. Goodrich said he owns the Village Plaza, the strip mall at Crosby and Mineral Point avenues, and the building where the Social Security offices are located, among other holdings.


But he would not be doing his best for his other clients if he sold properties at a loss to pay those asking for their money, he said.


“How could I possibly have explained the risks … when I didn’t know that we would have a global banking meltdown?” he said.


His clients knew the specifics and risks of the funds, he said. Goodrich said he has not provided any investment advice since 2005 and has only managed the assets of the funds.


Goodrich said he has given some of his clients some money, but he can’t give them all of their money.


To suggest that his dealings represent a Ponzi scheme is untrue, he said.


He said he has paid most of the people he has hired, but people don’t hear about those who get paid, he said.


“It hurts” when people say bad things about him, Goodrich said.


“I do think things are going to get better.


“Call me religious, too, but ‘trust the Lord with all your heart … and he will direct your path.’ That’s been my motto for these last few months of extreme difficulties.”


The La Reaus said they feel betrayed by a man they believed in and trusted—“a person who claimed to be something that he absolutely wasn’t.”


***


Can Goodrich get financing?

Brad Goodrich’s plans to build an assisted-living facility in the former Mercy Manor look more tenuous every day.


The assistant-living management firm that Goodrich had been working with will no longer contract to run the business, and numerous lawsuits have been filed against Goodrich. The latest lawsuit accuses him of defrauding clients out of more than $850,000.


Goodrich denies the accusations.


Goodrich in May received a conditional-use permit from the Janesville Plan Commission to build an assisted-living facility in the former nursing home at 119 S. Parker Drive.


Goodrich owns much of the block, including the historic Lovejoy manor. The manor is in foreclosure.


City staff in May recommended the commission give Goodrich six months to come up with financing, and the commission agreed. Goodrich’s first conditional-use permit, issued in 2007, expired.


Goodrich has said he had trouble getting financing because of the economic downturn and because he had difficulty working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Goodrich said Wednesday he still is hopeful he will get financing. He initially had asked for $5.8 million, he said. He said he has had a verbal agreement with a New York company, but that the terms have changed and need to be examined. He said he may approach HUD again.


The plan commission decided to give Goodrich a conditional-use permit based on land use. It could only consider whether the site is appropriate for an assisted-living facility, said Gale Price, manager of building and development services for the city.


City staff did not alert the commission to a recent state ruling that forbids Goodrich from selling new, state-regulated securities. State investigators said they issued the ruling because of their concern Goodrich would continue to defraud clients.


Goodrich says the state has a vendetta against him.


“His (Goodrich’s) issues with his management of securities doesn’t make a difference in the sense of deciding a land-use decision,” Price said. “Ultimately, he’s got to get the financing. If he doesn’t have the financing within the time period designated, it’s dead,” Price said.


“Our role is to look at the land-use decision and how that affects the neighborhood,” Price said. “I can understand the concerns of the neighbors—can he (Goodrich) do this, actually pull this off, given all this checkered history? That’s a legitimate concern.”


Goodrich also must clean up liens on his property, Price said.


Price has said he was more comfortable with Goodrich’s plans because Goodrich had partnered with Apex, a Sun Prairie company experienced in managing senior housing and assisted-living facilities.


But Apex CEO Rob Simonson told the Gazette recently that he would not contract to run the facility because he is busy now managing other facilities.


Simonson is willing to consult with Goodrich and help him find another management group.


“I wish him the best,” Simonson said. “I think it’s a good location for something like that.”


Simonson’s retreat leaves Price concerned. Price said he was counting on someone with experience to run the facility.


If Goodrich’s plans fail, it would hurt the neighborhood by leaving a vacant building, Price said. The city can’t order a building razed in an historic district until it depreciates to 80 percent of its assessed value.



Print Print