Ponzi schemer pleads guilty in $41.2M swath of loss

Two of the victims: Radiologist Ralph Khan and wife Tara lost $2 million.
Two of the victims: Radiologist Ralph Khan and wife Tara lost $2 million. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 22, 2013

One of the 160 or so victims in Everett Charles Ford Miller's $41.2 million Ponzi scheme was a retired Cherry Hill radiologist whose family lost $2 million.

Another was Miller's neighbor, an owner of car dealerships whose suburban McMansion borders Miller's house on a pleasant lakeside cul-de-sac in Marlton. Their kids were friends, but not anymore.

A third was an elderly woman who invested - and lost - $80,000 that she and her deceased husband had earned in their plumbing business.

"Those suckers took my money," said Angela Hosford, 83, of Mount Laurel. "I hope they all go to jail."

One of them probably will.

Miller, 43, a high school dropout-turned-financial adviser, faces up to 25 years in prison and a $5 million fine after pleading guilty July 9 to securities fraud and tax evasion in Camden federal court. U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb set sentencing for Oct. 18.

The fraud took place between June 2006 and December 2010 and involved people in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Texas, and North Carolina.

In a way, said people who met him, Miller didn't fit the mold of a serious schemer - yes, he had a Mercedes parked in his driveway, but instead of using his money to fund an island retreat in the Caribbean, he invested in a four-bedroom Cherry Hill home to be used as a playhouse, decorating it with tequila bottles, according to documents filed in a related legal document.

While he spent $516,500 for a private box at New Jersey Devils home games, some purchases were from Kohl's, court records show. Definitely not high-end.

And definitely not slick.

"He didn't seem like a go-getter, high-achiever, well-informed executive," said one victim, a retired chemical-sales executive from Texas, whose family lost more than $1 million.

Federal court documents say that $663,156 was used to support Miller and his family's lifestyle over three years - not chump change, but not lavish either.

That's what makes Miller's story a complicated one. Was he a crook, skimming money from investors to fund a lavish lifestyle? Or was he an incompetent investor who found himself roped into failing business ventures, including, perhaps, another Ponzi scheme?

Or something in between?

In these kinds of cases, "you are always asking whether the person is a bad person, or a good person who lost their moral compass," said Rocco Cipparone, a former federal prosecutor who now specializes in defending white-collar crime.

"In more cases than not, it does evolve," said Cipparone, who is an adjunct professor of criminal law at Rutgers University in Camden.

Because Cipparone once represented one of Miller's salesmen in a related civil case, he declined to comment directly on Miller's situation.

"There are some people who start out just to engage in a scam," Cipparone said, speaking generally. "But there are others who start out well-intentioned, but when they begin to lose money, they play a little fast and loose in the hope that they'll be able to salvage the business and pay everybody back."

Miller declined to talk about the case. "I have nothing to say," he told a reporter at his door.

Miller's court-appointed lawyer, John A. Azzarello, described his client as broke, with his wife now waiting tables at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Mount Laurel. "This is clearly not a Bernie Madoff situation," Azzarello said. "There's no luxury home. No summer home. No boat. No crown jewels."

Azzarello said Miller had been a deep-sea diver who, after injuring himself on the job, tried to reinvent himself as a day trader and an investment adviser.

"Some people have the golden touch," Azzarello said, "but every time he put his time and resources into something, it didn't work out."

Few of Miller's victims dealt directly with Miller. Instead they worked with salesmen.

Hosford, for example, met John Fish, who described himself as a churchgoing man.

"He goes to church and so does the devil," she said. "When you meet him, he looks like America, with blue eyes and short hair. He even brought his kids here, and they were so cute."

Fish also persuaded a fellow trustee at his church, Dobbins Memorial Methodist Church in Delanco, to invest more than $750,000 of his family's money, according to legal documents. Most of that was lost.

Fish's voice-mail box was full, and no one answered the door at his home in Hainesport.

The Cherry Hill radiologist, Ralph Khan, and his family were wooed by Ryan Carr, vice president of Carr Miller Capital.

"He'd bring his large cup of coffee from Wawa and sit there" at the dining-room table and talk for hours, Khan said. Carr even invited them to a Christmas party at Miller's home. "It was beautiful, well-decorated, with a private theater and paintings," Khan said, describing Miller as "very approachable, very hospitable."

Khan's parents, sharecroppers in British Guiana, had sold some cows to send him to school. Like many immigrants, he worked hard and lived modestly, expecting to help his children and extended family with a lifetime of savings. Now he's living on Social Security, and his wife, Tara, 64, works as a nurse. "I didn't know what to do," he said.

Carr did not return calls to his home, nor did anyone answer the door at his Franklinville home.

John Fish, Ryan Carr, and Carr's cousin Brian Carr have been named as defendants in a New Jersey civil suit against the group. Brian Carr's lawyer said Carr had been duped by Miller and his cousin. None has been indicted in federal court.

"The investigation is ongoing," said Matthew Reilly, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey.

Some investors received some, or all, of their money, about $11.7 million. Employees, brokers, and Carr Miller personnel received $7.8 million, some of it for commissions.

Khan has been hospitalized multiple times for what he says are ailments related to stress - the "stress of knowing what I worked for all my life has been taken from me."

Contact Jane Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JaneVonBergen. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.

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