Pinetown

For whatever reason…this post did not publish to the web last night. Here’s a bit more about Pinetown:

You’ve probably heard Ken Waters’ commercials here on WECT or maybe his show on The Big Talker F.M.. Ken Waters was a familiar and trusted face here in Wilmington. In fact, that’s how all of the investor’s I spoke with described…. “a friend”… “a buddy.” Some of the Pinetown investor’s had worked with him for years. Because of those longstanding relationships, many deals made with Ken were made on a handshake.

From what I understand, these clients were represented through his company, “Heritage Investments.” Heritage was formed in 1997 but dissolved by the state in 2003 for failure to file annual reports. The company was never reinstated with the State, but continued to do work out of an office complex near Landfall (and later inside Ken’s home). Jim Springer told me that his office set-up was somewhat peculiar. He never met Jim inside an actual office…only in a board room that was used by the entire complex.

If you look at the documentation from some of the investors…it looks like Heritage had a couple identities: Heritage Investments, Heritage Investment Advisors, LLC; and Heritage Investment Services, LLC. Attorney Martin Ramey says that when companies start to mix and mingle names like this, it can remove the protection provided to them as a limited liability company.

Ken Waters also seems to have had a varied past. According to public records, he’s been affiliated with IFG Network Securities, Merrill Lynch, Multi-Financial Securities Corporation, FSC Securities Corporation of Wilmington and H. Beck, Inc.. People change jobs all the time, so these switches might not be relevant EXCEPT that some of the investors that have now filed claims say that when Ken jumped companies, their money was moved around and they often lost the ability to track historical transactions and financial performance.

Jim Springer says he first heard about Pinetown last winter. “There was a special deal that only his closest buddies had opportunities to,” Jim says. Ken sold him on exclusivity and on the high return – 20%. Ken also pitched it as a guaranteed money making opportunity. If the deal crumbled, the investors would have rights to the property so no matter what, they’d all walk away with something. Of the investors I’ve talked to, all were promised a similar deal although the rate of return varied from about 6.5% to 20%.

Some of the investors had been in Pinetown for years before Jim came into the picture. According to documents from the Secretary of State, Pinetown was formed by David A. Sneed and Kenneth C. Waters in May of 1997 for “investing in real estate and securities.” Pinetown did not file annual reports in 1999 and 2000. In 2003, the State dissolved Pinetown for failure to file appropriate paperwork. The last formal filing I found was in August of 2009, Rick E. Graves, the registered agent for Pinetown resigned from the company. I contacted Rick about Pinetown but he denied my request for an interview.

During the years that Pinetown was in operation, Ken Waters was actively signing up investors and some of them even saw a return on their money. One of Martin Ramey’s clients had been with Ken for years and were relying on his expertise to get them into retirement. They had suffered severe financial setbacks but Ken told them that Pinetown was their answer for recovery. The couple agreed and gave Ken $50,00. Months later Ken wrote them a check for $10,000…a 20% return on their investment. Ken then suggested they put in ANOTHER $50,000 and were then promised a July 31st payout date. Attorney Martin Ramey: “Naturally if you receive money back from your investments you’ve got to be thinking, ‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with this, this is a good idea let’s do it again’…That strategy invites people to trust.”

Jim Springer says he trusted Ken fully, but there was just something about the Pinetown deal that didn’t sit right….too good to be true? He started asking Ken questions…would there ever be any paperwork to sign? Where was this land? Who ARE these people? Ken delayed and finally Jim just asked him to pull the plug on his investment. As you heard in the story, Ken wired Jim about $183,000 to Puerto Rico where he was on vacation (principal plus interest). Jim took the money right out of his account and closed on a new home there.

While he was on vacation, he got the news that Ken had committed suicide. It seems that everyone was under the impression that it was because of personal reasons. In fact, I’m told that many of the investors went to Ken’s funeral, thinking that days later on July 31st, the payout day would still come. Jim says that he was sad to hear about his friend, but relieved that the Pinetown fiasco was over. EXCEPT…when he came back to Wilmington there was a letter from Multi-Financial that said that his “wire” was actually a loan against his own assets. The financial terminology for this is putting someone’s account “on margin.” So not only did Jim lose $150,000 in Pinetown…he now owes this “loan” for the same amount.

Jim has challenged Multi-Financial (an ING company). The company sent him a letter dissociating themselves from Ken, who at one time represented them. Jim says he wants people to read the fine print of their investment paperwork.  Jim says the case with many of these national firms, is that you cannot arbitrate against them. Martin Ramey is representing 5 of the claims against Ken Waters’ estate and he will also be in arbitration with Multi-Financial. Martin Ramey says there should be accountability with these firms. If Ken was a “Representative” of Multi-Financial someone should have been monitoring his business.  Pinetown was a deal constructed outside of Heritage. Who was supervising his projects and if they were done outside the framework…is that even allowed?

That piece of property known as “Pinetown” was indeed owned by Ken at one time. The land has nothing on it but a dilapidated house. Its believed that Ken had made money on a timbering deal in the past and that was the inspiration behind Pinetown. There is no evidence of any “group of land owners” that needed money for timbering. On June 11th 2009 he sold that property to 3-B Farms Inc which his uncle owns. None of the investors (from my understanding) were aware of this. The selling price: $65,280.

Ken’s ending is what takes this story to a most unusual place. The detective who investigated Ken’s suicide said that Ken had reserved a condo at in Atlantic Beach from Realty World. The first condo they put him in did not have a garage and Ken asked to be moved to one that did. Police came to the condo on July 17th, 2009 when Ken failed to check out. They found the grill inside of a tent in the garage.  Ken and the book “Suicide” were laying just outside of it. Also found on site: a firearm, drugs, alcohol and a note that mentioned his money troubles.

The book “Suicide” by Geo Stone is basically a manual on suicide. It describes every possible way to end it. I obviously wanted to get the book so I could have video of it but its over $200 online! I was surprised to find it for check-out at New Hanover County library.

Ken departed along with all the details about Pinetown. His estate lawyer would not go on camera but you saw the letter she sent to Jim Springer…they can’t find any money of evidence that proves Pinetown was a viable company.

Also not wanting to go on camera…the other investors I spoke with. They are being represented by another law firm here in town and they told me their attorney specifically told them to NOT talk to the media.

If you are an investor…you only have a small window of opportunity to file a claim against Ken’s estate…November 1st. It seems that people are coming out of the woodwork from all over the country now.

Jim Springer would also like to speak with any investors. He asks that you contact him at: doyouhaveinformation@gmail.com

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