Louis Schooler hit with $150 million fraud fine

Real estate swindler disappears on lone 3500-mile sailboat journey in the South Pacific

Louis Schooler
  • Louis Schooler

As the owner of San Diego’s Western Financial Planning Corporation, Louis Schooler hoodwinked a lot of people over three decades. Early this year, following a legal struggle that went on for four years, Schooler was ordered to cough up almost $150 million for running a real estate partnership scam since 2007. The Securities and Exchange Commission had charged him with fraud in September of 2012.

The federal judge handling the case, Gonzalo P. Curiel, is also overseeing the government’s case against Trump University and has been the target of The Donald’s bluster.

In July, traveling alone, Schooler, a resident of Solana Beach, embarked on a 3500-mile trip on his Hylas 42 sailing boat, named Entertainer, to the Marquesas Islands, part of French Polynesia. They are 750 miles northeast of Tahiti, where Schooler next headed.

Schooler didn’t make it. The securities agency will only say that one of Schooler’s lawyers reported that Schooler is dead. The receiver in the case, Thomas Hebrank, told victims that Schooler “is officially considered ‘missing’ at this point by the U.S. Department of State because no death certificate or other confirmation of death has been issued by local authorities.” Hebrank did not reply to my questions. I called Schooler’s two lawyers, Philip Dyson and Eric Hougen, asking if Schooler might have been the target of a criminal investigation, in addition to the securities agency’s civil complaints. I got no response. I have relied in part upon Andy Turpin, managing editor of Latitude 38 of San Francisco, the biggest sailing magazine on the West Coast. Turpin has been following the story in recent editions. I have been following the financial hijinks of Schooler and his brother John since 2011.

Latitude 38 said in its latest edition that details of Schooler’s supposed death “are curious, if not downright suspicious.” On July 5, a New Zealand maritime radio operation received a distress call from the Entertainer. The location of the call was suspicious, according to Latitude 38. The distress was relayed to French Polynesia’s search-and-rescue operation, which sent out a plane that located the boat. The searchers noted that the vessel had changed course and turned off navigation lights. A few days later, investigators learned that Schooler had called his wife on July 5 and reported that he did not feel well and had hurt his back. A police helicopter spotted, the Entertainer aground on Takapoto Atoll, which is only six miles long and has 380 residents.

Takapoto Atoll (right): Where Schooler’s boat was found run aground

Takapoto Atoll (right): Where Schooler’s boat was found run aground

A dead body was seen on the craft, the police reportedly said, but because of rough weather, police did not winch down to the boat. The next day, the police intended to fetch the body for an autopsy, but it was gone. Some think the body may have washed out to sea. Others are skeptical. French Polynesian police are said to be investigating but are not talking.

John Schooler

John Schooler

Schooler and his brother, John Schooler, were at the top of an interlocking network of financial industry holdings. John Schooler ran a brokerage house, WFP Securities. The San Diego Reader reported in April of 2011 that WFP clients bitterly complained that they had been put in highly inappropriate investments. No fewer than 20 arbitrations and written demands had been registered against the web of Schooler enterprises. The major complaint against WFP was that naive clients had been put in highly speculative investments — including a Ponzi scheme — that paid fat commissions to brokers.

Louis Schooler indirectly owned half of WFP and all of Western Financial Planning. In addition to selling securities, WFP brokers peddled the real estate partnerships sold by Western Financial. WFP shut its doors in 2011.

Six years ago, I began fielding complaints from investors who had lost their shirts entrusting their money to WFP. Some of them suspected they had gotten bamboozled in Western’s real estate partnerships, too.

In September of 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint against Lou Schooler and Western. “Schooler buys raw, undeveloped land in the southwest United States, then sells the land at grossly inflated prices to general partnerships composed of numerous unsophisticated investors,” charged the commission. But Schooler and Western “do not disclose this enormous markup and mislead the investors about the true value of the underlying property.”

As an example, the agency said that Western bought a piece of land in Nevada for $1.85 million in 2010. Then it sold the land to the partnerships at prices valuing the land at $9.3 million — “about a 500 percent markup,” noted the agency.

It charged that Western showed investors real estate “comps,” or comparable market prices for similar property. “In reality, the ‘comps’ are not at all comparable to the property being offered,” charged the agency. Also, Western did not tell investors that many of the properties were encumbered with mortgage debt used to purchase the land.

When some investors smelled a rat in Schooler’s basement, he offered to refund their investment in exchange for a promise not to tell other investors or go to authorities, charged the agency, calling the ploy an offer of “hush money.”

Schooler and his firm were charged with various violations of securities laws, including selling unregistered securities.

Then came the legal war of words. Schooler’s lawyers argued that Western’s general partnerships were not, by definition, securities.

Schooler’s lawyers contended that over many decades, the law has held that “interests in general partnerships are not securities” and “interests in raw land held solely for market appreciation are not securities,” said financial writer Doug Cornelius. Initially, Curiel was swayed by such arguments.

If these raw-land partnerships were not securities, the government’s charges would go out the window. But, at another point, Curiel ruled that Western’s partnerships were, indeed, securities because the partners were such financial greenhorns that they couldn’t intelligently exercise their partnership powers, and the investors were so dependent on so-called managerial abilities of Western that they couldn’t competently replace the partnership managers.

On January 21 of this year, Curiel granted the securities agency’s request for Schooler’s disgorgement of $147.6 million, representing profits he made while breaking the law. Since then, there have been subsequent hearings, and some loose ends of the case were still hanging when Schooler took his solo trip to the Marquesas in July and may have lost his life.

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Mike Murphy: It could be a "well thought out plan." Or not. If it was plotted, was it a plan for Louis Schooler to disappear among the islands? Or take his own life? Someone in his mid-60s who embarks on a lone 3500-mile sailing journey after being ordered to pay $150 million raises questions. Best, Don Bauder

This unwise voyage could have been a slow-motion suicide (where was he to find $150 million to pay the judgment?) or a wild disappearance scheme. We eventually may learn enough to say, or we may never know. The real key was in the planning, if indeed there was any. If he turns up somewhere in the Pacific, we will know he was attempting to make an escape. The coming months may have revelations, or the passage of time will deepen the mystery. A story worth following, I'd say.

Visduh: Yes, this is a most interesting mystery. Could Schooler be hiding out on a remote atoll? He supposedly told his wife that he was ill, and also that he had hurt his arm. If he had hurt his arm, he may not have been able to maneuver the craft. Did he have money with him? What is the culture of the residents of the atoll, and nearby atolls? Lots to think about here. Best, Don Bauder

easy to live in plain sight in places like Malaysia if you have a few bucks

Murphyjunk: Is that true? I am not gainsaying you. But if it were that easy for a crook with a big stash in an offshore institution to live a normal life in a place like Malaysia, I would think we would hear more about it. More TV shows and novels would be written about it. Best, Don Bauder

look into Malaysia corruption to get the idea how much can be done in that part of the world with a few bux

Murphyjunk: I guess I spend too much time looking into Caribbean tax havens when I should be studying Malaysia. Best, Don Bauder

My parents bought into the Reno View partnership in the early '80's. They always thought it would grow in value and pay off substantially. WFP even sent newsletters saying how the surrounding properties were being developed and our parcel was surely gaining in value.

After thirty-five years their investment of approximately 15K is worth about 500 bucks according to the receiver's estimate. This is a small fraction of what others have lost.

Not all that glitters is gold.

Bearer_of_no_name: Precisely. Schooler sang a beautiful song. The land values would soar, he warbled. Generally, they went the other way. These partnerships were sold to naive investors. It's one thing to sell land to speculators who know it is a gamble. But Schooler peddled his pitch to people who had no business buying into such speculative partnerships.

Schooler indirectly owned half of the related WFP, which sold highly speculative stocks to naive investors. WFP salespeople also sold Western's crapshoot partnerships. Best, Don Bauder

Freddie Fisher:You lost a FINRA arbitration to these guys, and it cost you $200k? I want to know all the details, particularly the dates. There is definitely a pro-broker bias in arbitrations. But this one was pretty obvious some time ago. I want you to send me everything on that arbitration. My email address is [email protected] My phone is 719-539-7831. We can blow this out of the water -- who made the stupid (rigged?) decision and why.

I have gone through similar experiences. I have nailed crooks in print but when the bandits screamed and threatened to sue, the editors of the publication found in favor of the crooks and I was forced to apologize in print. Then the truth came out. It's the same kind of bias. The people with the money are right and the journalist is wrong. Let's get this Schooler story. Best, Don Bauder

Freddie Fisher: It sounds like you want to comb the French Polynesians to find Schooler and perhaps some companions. I would not recommend that. Since you apparently have FINRA data that will bring out the truth about wrong-headed arbitrations, I would go in that direction first. Best,, Don Bauder

Don You do good work! Keep it up!
Remember the tobacco cases where the big bucks tobacco honchos testified/blatantly lied under oath to Congress on TV?!
60 Minutes was pressured to "kill the story" exposing tobacco companies research decades ago that smoking was proven to cause cancer. It seems CBS was threatened with lawsuits from Big Tobacco and had some conflicting business interests...stood to lose many millions in business revenues if Big Tobacco pulled all their ads. The story was leaked to the NYT and they published it anyways blowing the lid on the conspiracy between CBS and Big Tobacco to kill the story on 60 minutes and keep it quiet. You have probably seen "The Insider" a very good movie made on that story.http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0140352/

SportsFan0000: Yes, that TV/Big Tobacco caper was an utter disgrace.

I want to pose a question not relevant to your fine entry: Louis Schooler had a seagoing vessel -- the one he took to the French Polynesians -- worth at least $1 million. Why did the SEC not seize that vessel? Best, Don Bauder

Don, my guess would be that either the Feds were slow to the draw and did not suspect that Schooler would flee and leave family behind and failed to "lock down" his avenues of escape like his passport, boat, excess funds for travel etc..And/ Or Schooler had this "Plan B" set up all along (he was determined not to go to prison under any circumstances) including, maybe, hiding his boat off shore or in Mexico for him to pick up later, maybe disguising the ownership of the vessel so the Feds did not pick up the fact that he was the owner etc, maybe he had help from "friends" or innocent 3rd parties who did not know he may be a convicted felon on the run....And, I have heard read of instances, even on "America's most wanted" where a wanted felon is released on a traffic citation or an unrelated arrest because law enforcement had not update their computers fast enough and had not put out their APBs including with INTERPOL , FBI and US National law enforcement computers fast enough. Once a suspect or felon "jumps the border", then it appears that their chances to "slip away" and "blend in" and get away seem to go up exponentially..

SportsFan0000: We don't know that Schooler was a felon. He was ordered to pay $150 million because he was found liable in a CIVIL case. The SEC does to do criminal cases. I have wondered if there was a criminal investigation, too, by federal authorities, but that is strictly supposition. To my knowledge, there was nothing published about a possible criminal investigation.

It is my understanding that Schooler sold his fancy home on the ocean and moved to humbler quarters. It's possible the SEC figured he didn't have more money, but that sea craft was worth at least $1 million, so the government should have seized it, it seems to me. The case dragged on for four years but it was only this year when the judge said he should forfeit $150 million, and it's possible the government just wasn't on the ball, and didn't move fast enough to seize the craft.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions, and your analysis is very helpful. Best, Don Bauder

Check this out - Hylas 42 Entertainer - http://www.pacificpuddlejump.com/fleet.html

Says owner on 2016 Tahiti Trip is: Entertainer Hylas 42 San Diego, CA Betsy Jacobson San Diego, CA departs March 15

Betsy Jacobson's name, I believe, was also working for, or somehow involved with, WFP, when they were located in the office building on Carrol Canyon Rd, in San Diego. I do remember her name. Maybe someone should try to talk with her?

The exact URL is http://www.pacificpuddlejump.com/alumni/2016fleet.html to see the following information:

Boat Name: Entertainer Boat Model: Hylas 42 Homeport: San Diego, CA Owner's Name(s): Betsy Jacobson Departing From: San Diego, CA When: March 15

Can anyone confirm that anything was paid by Schooler and why dont the investors duped receive some of the $, instead of the SEC? I wonder if anyone is suing the other salespeople operating as independent contractors to Schooler.

The SEC see's to it that their lawyers and the Federal Treasury have first dibs on any $$$'s recovery on Schooler's fine (if he was still alive) and no, not yet anyway, that I am aware of as suing the sales people, whom got their commissions, but some were also invested in these bad investments, also going to lose $$$'s in most of these GP's. I bought into one for 20K in 1991 and 10K into another in 1993. I've paid annual operational expense bills for each GP when due (up until the time that the SEC put WFP - Schooler, into receivership with a company called E3 advisors). So far, not a dime has been returned to the investors, and with the receiver's distribution plan (the one-pot approach) my 30K will have been reduced to approximately 13.4% of it's original value which means, 30K investment = $4,020 now for a loss of $25,980 + my operation bill payments over the past 25 yrs or so. Not a very good investment which is still tied up in US f Federal court in San Diego and has an appeal moving towards the US 9th District court of Appeal. And some investors put much more $$$'s than I did and some investors even had put these investments in their IRA's which for most are also losing 86.6% of their retirement funds. Since the SEC took over to "protect the interest" of investors and any "future investors" by putting WFP and Schooler out of business for selling "unregistered securities", we investors have lost almost all of our money. Not a very good deal except for all the lawyers whom are being paid from what ever is left.

I, unfortunately, got involved at the recommendation of Eric Union, mortgage broker/banker, who insisted I work with Tom English of WFP.

Worst decision of my life.

Does anyone know if any recovery has been sought from any Liability and/or Errors and Emissions Insurance policies. I believe these should have been in place for all the brokers and agents.

According to our sales representative, Brian Loschenko, other investors had sold their properties for profit. He never provided proof, but I asked him repeatedly. At first he said 3-5 years, and some even sooner, then after these dates passed, he started saying over 10 years. Of course we stopped investing by this time, but had already been swindled into two investments. He tried to slip an unsigned request to move money from our IRA to another investment even around 2012. Luckily our IRA broker contacted us. Loschenko called us and yelled at us, crying about how much he had done for us and how we somehow owed him. We got zero money from our investments at this time, yet we somehow owed him our buy-in on another crooked deal? I do not feel sorry for this con one bit. I would like to know if there is a case against the sales brokers, as it appears clear they were blatantly lying. This is fraud. He should be stripped of his licenses, money, and thrown in jail.

the case is closing next year, and the return rate of these investments are minus 90%, congratulation, fellows, what a great America dream.

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