The list of Shreveport residents who have filed suit alleging they lost millions by investing with businessman David deBerardinis in what they thought were lucrative energy trades has grown.
Five members of the Gamble family, which for years operated nursing homes here, have sued the chief financial officer of one of deBerardinis' companies, accusing him of enticing them into a bad investment that cost them $7.25 million when the operation imploded last year.
It is among four lawsuits alleging investors who believed they were putting money into lucrative energy trades with double-digit returns were defrauded of in what is being likened to a Ponzi scheme involving tens of millions in investors' money.
There were no trades; documents confirming them were fakes; and money was diverted to deBerardinis' use, lawsuits allege. Attorneys familiar with the case say early investors got paid but later ones lost money. Eleven people from here have filed suit against either deBerardinis or his chief financial officer in an effort to recoup a total of $42 million they say they provided.
deBerardinis, 55, is also the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office and the FBI. Repeated efforts by KTBS News to reach him for comment have been unsuccessfu,l and he exercised his right against self-incrimination during a deposition in the first lawsuit, court documents said.
The Gambles' lawsuit, filed in Caddo District Court, alleges Shreveport CPA Todd Muslow convinced the Gambles to invest more than $7 million with deBerardinis.
The suit names as defendants Todd Muslow, the chief financial officer of one of deBerardinis' companies; and his father Richard, the Gambles' longtime, trusted CPA. It alleges there were big returns for a short time-- until the money stopped:
- The Gambles in 2015 had sold their nursing homes and were looking for advice on taxes and what to do with their money. Richard Muslow described how deBerardinis was doing well and "flying around in private jets," the Gambles' suit said.
- Richard Muslow recommended they invest with deBerardinis as middlemen between energy companies in the purchase, transportation and re-selling of fossil fuels. With Todd Muslow as the liaison, the Gambles provided $7.25 million over four months in late 2015 and early 2016, with repayments to be made through promissory notes paying 15 percent interest. The investments were described as safe, with only loss of interest payments as the risk, the lawsuit said.
- The Gambles were told $80 million had been invested in deBerardinis' enterprise by several prominent Shreveporters.
- Interest payments were made as scheduled for the last three months of 2015, before Todd Muslow said there was a holdup on payments from their supplier, the lawsuit alleges. The Gambles made a "bridge loan" to buy fuel until the problem was corrected, after which interest payments resumed.
- Todd Muslow wrote the Gambles a check to repay the bridge loan three months later, then told them the check was insufficient. Worried their investment was at risk, the investors met with Muslow last June and were told their money was gone, the lawsuit said.
The company the Gambles invested in was operated by deBerardinis but the lawsuit does not name him as a defendant because their money did not go directly to him. The Gambles' lawsuit said neither Todd Muslow nor deBerardinis had any assets other than their respective homes and that deBerardinis also had an interest in two airplanes worth approximately $500,000.
The Muslows "enticed the Gambles to invest in a high risk business deal in which they were assured by Todd Muslow that there was little or no risk to their principal and that the returns would be high," said the lawsuit, which also alleges Todd Muslow knew those statements were not true.
Todd Muslow and his attorney have declined comment.
Individuals who invested with deBerardinis are describing a "Ponzi-like" structure in which early investors received big returns. As time went on, investors -- who allege they were given fabricated financial statements on what they were investing in and how it was doing -- were not paid and began to fear their money was gone.
Last summer, deBerardinis was sued by a Dallas bank and three investors from Shreveport who guaranteed a $29 million loan for deBerardinis' operations. The investors alleged no fuel trades were made -- that deBerardinis was engaged in "a total scam involving, among other things, fake emails, fictitious contracts, forged signatures, bogus checks and fabricated trading confirmations" in which investor money was diverted to his own use, the suit in Texas charges.
PlainsCapital Bank is trying to recoup the loan. The loan, which is now delinquent, was guaranteed by Shreveport businessmen Stephen Herbel, B. Craig Webb and Jerry Webb. They have joined the bank's efforts against deBerardinis to recover the money.
The Webbs and Herbel last week filed suit in Dallas against another bank that provided deBerardinis $5.5 million for his operations. The loan was taken out by the businessmen and the money provided directly to deBerardinis, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit alleges the bank did not do due diligence.
"Given the extensive banking relationship (the bank) had with deBerardinis, and the transfers/transactions taking place right under their noses, they knew or should have known that his proclaimed trading operations were a scam," the lawsuit said.
A lawsuit filed in November by Shreveport businessmen Sidney Kent, Fred Kent and Havard Yerger alleges they were convinced by Muslow to invest $1.1 million in deBerardinis' company, with a 17 percent return on their investment. For a while monthly payments were made as promised, but in June 2016 came word payments would be delayed, the lawsuit said. Muslow told the Kents and Yerger there was no money to repay their investments, according to the lawsuit.