In March, the SEC announced it had obtained an emergency court order to shut down USA Retirement Services (USARMS). In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the SEC alleged that the company found investors by hosting estate planning seminars. After scheduling follow-up meetings with seminar attendees, they pitched them Turkish Eurobond investments.
The company ultimately raised $20 million from more than 120 investors in California and Illinois between 2005 and 2010.
But USARMS never invested that money, the SEC alleges. Instead, as in other Ponzi schemes, the SEC says the company paid its early investors with money received from new investors. According to the SEC complaint, the company's managing partners Francois E. Durmaz and Robert C. Pribilski also spent the money on luxury cars, a stamp collection, vacations and Internet pornography.
A lawyer for Pribilski declined to comment. People close to the case said Durmaz has left the country and has yet to be found.
The SEC had no comment on Durmaz, nor would officials say whether they expected criminal charges would be filed in connection to the case.
Aleknus said that SEC officials told her it could take at least two or three years before victims of the alleged scam could recover any money. Aleknus isn't hopeful that she'll get anything at all.
For now, she and a friend are trying to start a support group by people who invested with USARMS.
She has advice to share to share with other retirees thinking of putting money into schemes they don't understand.
"Make sure that you check these people out," she said. "Don't get involved with anything you're unsure of."