A Grand Haven Township woman, Lillian VanDenBerg, 83, fell victim to a $9 million Ponzi scheme operated by Jeffrey Ripley of Sparta and Danny Lee VanLiere of Grand Rapids,
according to the state Attorney General’s Office. VanDenBerg was one of at least 140 elderly West Michigan residents targeted by the duo.
Ripley and VanLiere are accused of selling false securities through a company, API Worldwide Holdings by promising very high returns on investments, said Attorney General Bill Schuette. The fraud was allegedly carried out from July 2006 through January 2012, he said.
Victims were bilked of amounts varying from $3,000 to $60,000, as revealed by a joint investigation carried out by the Attorney General’s Office and state Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation. “The two men allegedly promised high returns on money invested, but never delivered,” Schuette said.
On March 13 Ripley and VanLiere were charged in the Ottawa County 58th District Court in Grand Haven for criminal enterprises such as racketeering, false pretenses and general violations of the state’s Securities Act. These felonies carry punishments of imprisonment from 10 to 20 years and/or fines from $15,000 to $100,000.
During arraignment the duo demanded exam, and a preliminary exam was set for March 20. The men were ordered to surrender their passports and bond was set at $500,000 each by cash or security. The two are presently held in Ottawa County Jail.
Lillian VanDenBerg makes her living from rentals from commercial buildings – she became a victim to their offer of 10 percent on the amount she gave them because her investments were down and some space was unoccupied. She apparently trusted the two men who took advantage of this over a period of three to four years. She was already getting suspicious about the men by the time the Michigan Attorney General’s Office contacted her.
“The last time (Ripley) was here, he said I could sell some of my assets and help him out,” she said. “I said I don’t think I can do that and he laid back.”
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” VanDenBerg advises others.