Susan Gosz trusted that Minneapolis financial planner Sean Meadows would invest her life savings wisely. Instead, the family friend swindled her and more than 50 other people out of at least $10 million, using some of the money on gambling and sex-oriented entertainment in Minnesota and Las Vegas, authorities say.
Meadows, 41, of Eden Prairie, was indicted Tuesday in federal court in St. Paul on three counts of mail fraud, seven counts of wire fraud, and one count each of money laundering and executing a transaction involving fraud proceeds. Prosecutors say he persuaded his victims to tap their retirement and other savings accounts by promising high rates of returns — up to 10 percent annually. But the investments were never made. Instead, from 2007 to April 2014, he is accused of operating a classic Ponzi scheme, using money from new investors to make interest and/or principal repayments to existing investors.
Prosecutors say Meadows used his clients’ money to pay expenses on personal investment properties and personal credit card bills. He bought a vehicle, traveled to Las Vegas, gambled at casinos and online, and spent more than $100,000 on sex-oriented entertainment.
The indictment also called on Meadows to forfeit to the federal government possessions that include Rolex watches, a pleasure boat, a 1968 Camaro, and real estate in St. Paul, Minneapolis, White Bear Lake, Mound, River Falls, Wis., and Atwater, Minn. The list also included his primary residence on Sand Ridge Road in Eden Prairie.
Gosz said she learned in May that Meadows was being investigated for fraud and that all of her retirement money was gone — more than $200,000 that she had turned over to him since 2008. Gosz said Meadows also persuaded her and her husband to refinance their Golden Valley home and invest the money. That money also is gone, she said.
“I was just horrified.” said Gosz, 65, who was forced to retire in 2003 because of a disability. “I kept saying to my husband, ‘Were we fools?’ And Mike [her husband] kept saying, ‘We thought he was a good guy.’ ”
“Sean is very affable … smooth,” she said. “He talks fast and writes fast. Anytime we asked questions of him, he would talk fast and talk in financial terms that I didn’t understand. And after the meetings I would say to my husband, ‘Do you know what he was talking about?’ And Mike would say, ‘Not really. But this is Sean, so I’m sure it’s all fine.’ ”
When the couple asked Meadows for financial statements, Gosz said, he claimed he had already sent it to her. Gosz says the fatigue she suffers from her disability affects her memory. “And Meadows knew that,” she said. “I thought maybe I misplaced it or filed it in the wrong place.”
In March, Gosz said she and her husband decided they needed to liquidate some of the investments they thought Meadows had made so that they could sell their home and downsize.
They called, texted and e-mailed Meadows, but he never responded. Then weeks later, they learned he was under investigation. “And our money was gone,” she said.
“I’m just glad there is going to be justice and he’s going to be held accountable,” Gosz said. “I hope he serves enough time that he’s never ever able to hurt people like this again.”
Meadows’ attorney, Mark Larsen, said Wednesday that “We’ve been anticipating the indictment for two or three months. We are cooperating fully with the U.S. government.”
While Larsen said it’s too early to say whether a plea agreement is possible, “We don’t anticipate having substantial differences [of opinion] in the case. There are some areas of disagreement. If we need to hammer these out in the courtroom, that’s what we are prepared to do.”
Meadows remains free, having been charged by summons, his attorney said.
A 65-year-old Roseville man who said he lost about $200,000 to Meadows’ scheme also is closely watching the case.
“The people who run these schemes can sell you anything,” said the retired firefighter and construction worker, who asked that his name not be used. “They just wrap you around their little finger. … Now I don’t even trust the mailman delivering my mail. You can’t trust anyone nowadays.”
“I’m probably just a little fish” compared to the people who lost millions to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, he said. “But it’s everything to me, and I’m sure it’s everything to a lot of people.”