In an August listening to, Sweet Kern-Fuller invoked her Fifth Modification proper to stay silent a minimum of 160 instances, in accordance with a transcript of the proceedings.
The lawyer from Easley, South Carolina, sat earlier than the Arizona Company Fee in Phoenix that day. She was there due to the fee’s investigation of her actions in a army advantages buying-and-selling enterprise.
This was not the primary time Kern-Fuller had come beneath scrutiny relating to her position in companies that additionally concerned Andrew Gamber.
In a relationship detailed in three lately settled federal civil fits and data from the Arizona case, Gamber was described because the operation’s mastermind and Kern-Fuller was known as the central banker.
The Arkansas businessman linked with the small-town legal professional by considered one of Kern-Fuller’s regulation shoppers who was working with Gamber, in accordance with a 2014 letter from Kern-Fuller.
Gamber and Kern-Fuller cast a profitable collaboration by preying on weak veterans, in accordance with allegations in lawsuits. Their scheme: Get traders to supply money advances to veterans who used their incapacity advantages or pensions to repay the cash over a interval of years.
The enterprise flourished at first.
Certainly one of Gamber’s corporations accomplished $34.2 million in offers with greater than 300 veterans throughout an 18-month interval, in accordance with the Arkansas Securities Division. The hefty commissions and charges on these transactions allowed his firm to show a $1.6 million revenue in 2011, a 2014 lawsuit alleged. Years later, considered one of his colleagues boasted about receiving 30 to 50 calls a day from potential prospects.
The cash flowing between the veterans and their traders went by Kern-Fuller’s regulation agency in Easley, in accordance with lately settled federal civil fits. She additionally provided the operation’s authorized muscle, suing dozens of veterans once they stopped repaying their money advances.
How hundreds misplaced tens of millions in schemes concentrating on veterans advantages
Monetary schemes have focused veterans since earlier than the web in a minimum of 33 states, however court docket circumstances in Greenville, SC, may mark a brand new period.
Josh Morgan, Greenville Information
Whereas Gamber and Kern-Fuller made cash, many veterans and traders who handled them wound up financially ruined.
The enterprise involving Gamber and Kern-Fuller fell aside a number of months in the past. An identical however vastly bigger rip-off collapsed in 2018, leading to unprecedented felony fees in opposition to California businessman Scott Kohn and three of his associates.
The Greenville Information spent a 12 months investigating how these companies have been in a position to purchase and promote army advantages regardless of repeated court docket rulings that discovered the follow unlawful.
At this time, Gamber is dealing with his personal monetary issues. And Kern-Fuller finds herself on the opposite aspect of lawsuits. Courtroom orders from Arkansas and South Carolina issued in September prohibit each of them from ever once more crafting transactions between veterans and traders.
A big “G” decorates the gate resulting in Gamber’s house south of Jonesboro, Arkansas. A small signal close by states, “This house believes in PRAYER.”
His house, which has seven bedrooms, three-and-half bogs and practically 6,000 sq. toes, sits on three.5 acres. The property was listed on the market Oct. 2. The asking value: $689,900.
“It has been very tough for me to discover a job with all of this happening,” Gamber stated in an e-mail per week after his house went available on the market. “I used to be promoting Pest Management and was let go because of all of this. I then went to work for the publish workplace and labored their (sic) for a interval of 6 months earlier than being let go as nicely.
“I’m now working half time for a advertising firm putting in coupon machines in grocery shops, and likewise house education our youngsters, which is a full-time job in itself. My spouse is the bread winner in our family.”
Gamber, 39, is a former insurance coverage agent who surrendered his Arkansas license in 2009 and agreed to pay a $25,000 administrative penalty. In line with a consent order, Arkansas officers had obtained two client complaints alleging Gamber made false or fraudulent statements. Gamber stated in his e-mail that he was the sufferer of a vendetta by the state’s insurance coverage commissioner stemming from a earlier dispute with one of many commissioner’s pals.
Gamber stated two brokers affiliated with a financial institution in Philadelphia launched him to promoting pension earnings streams in 2011. Earlier than continuing, Gamber stated, he and his companions spent practically $100,000 to have a regulation agency make certain they “weren’t doing something unlawful.”
“The legal guidelines weren’t clear,” he stated in his e-mail to a reporter from the USA TODAY Community.
The Arkansas Securities Division started investigating Gamber’s gross sales of pension earnings streams in 2012. Two years later, Gamber agreed that his firm, Voyager Monetary Group, would cease promoting unregistered securities within the state.
“VFG used a community of brokers to promote dangerous merchandise throughout the US and had a number of web site domains,” Kaycee Wolf, a employees legal professional for the division, instructed a U.S. Senate panel that held a 2015 listening to on pension advances.
Wolf additionally instructed the panel there have been suspicions Gamber continued to function the same enterprise beneath one other firm title.
Courtroom data present that Gamber was concerned with two different corporations, BAIC and SoBell Ridge, that organized offers between veterans and traders.
Regulators in California, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas took motion in opposition to Gamber’s corporations between 2013 and 2017. Arizona officers issued an order in April requiring Gamber and his corporations to pay $2.6 million in restitution and $100,000 in penalties.
Since September, federal judges in Arkansas and South Carolina have dominated the contracts Gamber and his corporations organized between veterans and traders “are void from inception” as a result of they violate anti-assignment legal guidelines.
Moreover completely barring Gamber from arranging future agreements with pensioners, the Arkansas choose’s order known as for Gamber to pay $2.7 million. However the order additionally included a possible low cost: Gamber may fulfill the judgment if he paid $275,000 inside 90 days.
“I haven’t got the funds out there to me to pay these fines,” Gamber stated in his e-mail.
He additionally stated he couldn’t afford to rent an legal professional to defend him in three federal civil fits filed by veterans in Greenville, South Carolina.
In line with state and federal tax liens, Gamber owes over $2.7 million in unpaid taxes from way back to 2007.
His different money owed embody $85,000 in unpaid youngster help to his ex-wife, court docket data present. A listening to in that case is scheduled for Dec. 2.
A freight practice rumbled previous Kern-Fuller’s regulation workplace in Easley on a Friday morning in October. The two-story brick construction seems to be a former house. A number of autos have been parked behind the constructing, together with a crimson Toyota Prius lacking its headlights and license plate.
A girl on the entrance desk stated Kern-Fuller wasn’t within the workplace and that she could be tied up the remainder of the day.
Reached by telephone two weeks afterward Oct. 24, Kern-Fuller declined to reply questions.
“I might completely like to, however I am unable to,” she stated.
Kern-Fuller, 51, patterned her follow, Upstate Legislation Group, after her authorized mentor, Greenville legal professional Paul J. Foster, a Marine veteran who died in 1999. She praised him as a “household lawyer” who sought to “actually assist his shoppers as a caring skilled.” That description topped a 2014 response to a grievance in opposition to her with the South Carolina Workplace of Disciplinary Counsel.
No motion was taken on the grievance.
Kern-Fuller has by no means been disciplined as an legal professional in South Carolina, in accordance with the state Fee on Lawyer Conduct.
She made headlines as an legal professional for former Anderson County Administrator Joey Preston, who obtained a contested $1.1 million severance deal in 2008. After a expensive, decade-long authorized battle, the state Supreme Courtroom overturned Preston’s buyout in August.
In 2016, Kern-Fuller was sued in reference to former Anderson County Councilman Ron Wilson’s Ponzi scheme involving fraudulent investments in silver. Whereas tons of of traders misplaced $57 million when Atlantic Bullion & Coin collapsed in 2012, the civil swimsuit accused Kern-Fuller of constructing a $24,200 revenue in 2011 on a $10,800 funding in a fraudulent scheme. A settlement was reached within the case in 2017, however particulars of the settlement weren’t revealed, court docket data present.
Kern-Fuller has handled medical issues in recent times. She underwent most cancers surgical procedure in January 2017, in accordance with a submitting in a federal case involving the U.S. Securities and Alternate Fee. The company went to court docket to acquire paperwork from Upstate Legislation Group and three different corporations associated to the shopping for and promoting of army advantages.
Earlier this 12 months, Kern-Fuller had a medical emergency that required surgical procedure, which excused her from touring to a listening to, in accordance with data filed by the Arizona Company Fee. The fee is looking for enforcement actions in opposition to her and others associated to the benefit-buying enterprise.
Because the legal professional for a South Carolina firm known as Life Funding Choices, Kern-Fuller filed lawsuits in Greenville in opposition to 32 defendants, nearly all of whom have been veterans, between February 2017 and Might 2018, court docket data present. The fits alleged that the defendants had stopped repaying the money advances they obtained from traders.
Fourteen of these circumstances have been dismissed, and one case was transferred to federal court docket. Ten pending circumstances are anticipated to be dismissed quickly. The opposite seven circumstances resulted in default judgments totaling $416,331.
Now, it’s Kern-Fuller who’s dealing with authorized issues.
In July, Kern-Fuller was named as a defendant in a federal civil swimsuit in Tennessee. A couple who’ve been married for 54 years stated they suffered greater than $500,000 in damages after veterans didn’t repay money advances. Attorneys for Kern-Fuller filed a movement in September looking for to dismiss the swimsuit.
A ruling within the Arizona Company Fee case most likely is months away.
Retired College of South Carolina regulation professor John Freeman served as an skilled witness within the Arizona case. In a report detailing Kern-Fuller’s position within the sale of army advantages, he stated, “Info present that she participated in criminality that was so egregious it could lead on an inexpensive individual to conclude she operated or managed a felony enterprise.”
An skilled witness for Kern-Fuller, William Higgins — an legal professional who serves on professional-responsibility and ethics-advisory committees for the South Carolina Bar — stated, “I worry that Professor Freeman and his report was frankly designed to simply make Ms. Kern-Fuller and Upstate Legislation Group look unhealthy.”
Kern-Fuller’s legal professional Robert Zelms stated on the listening to, “This isn’t a authorized malpractice case; that is not an ethics case… Upstate Legislation Group, Sweet Kern-Fuller didn’t create these merchandise and transactions which are in query; they didn’t promote them; they didn’t market them; they didn’t promote them. They have been concerned within the preparation of the closing paperwork.”
The South Carolina Division of Client Affairs is investigating 4 complaints in opposition to Kern-Fuller’s regulation agency which were filed since 2018. Three of these have been filed in October, data present.
However one authorized battle involving Kern-Fuller is over. The federal civil fits filed by veterans in Greenville have been settled in late September.
Although they disputed that the follow violates federal regulation, Kern-Fuller, her regulation agency and Life Funding Choices agreed as a part of the settlement to now not purchase and promote army advantages or acquire from veterans who have been a part of earlier transactions.