December 5, 2001
By Jill Taylor
The Palm Beach Post
A former Martin County couple accused of bilking more than 250 retirees out of more than $20 million in questionable investments filed for bankruptcy protection in federal district court last week.
Philip E. Mehl Sr. and his wife, Susan, allegedly used newspaper ads to attract hundreds of senior citizens to investment seminars where they were persuaded to invest in EST pay phones and other companies regulators say were highly questionable.
The couple filed for protection under Chapter 7 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fort Lauderdale and reported no assets, according to a court clerk.
The federal filing automatically delays action in dozens of lawsuits by investors who claim they lost millions before Mehl’s Stuart-based company, the Financial Group/Senior Financial Education, was ordered closed by the Florida Department of Banking and Finance.
Boca Raton attorney Lawrence Klayman , who represents the first Martin County couple to file suit accusing the Mehls of fraud, said he will ask the bankruptcy court judge to allow their suit to proceed in state courts. He said he suspects the Mehls, who repeatedly have failed to appear at depositions, have left Florida.
Meanwhile, Assistant State Attorney Levering Evans said his office is just beginning a criminal investigation into the accusations against the Mehls.
“We have very few law enforcement resources to deal with a case of this magnitude,” he said. “We’ve just closed on another case, and now we can focus our efforts on this case.”
Evans asked that victims call Reese Parrish, an investigator with the state attorney’s office in Fort Pierce, at 465-3000.
Evans doubted that the couple’s filing for protection in federal bankruptcy court would stop the victims from pursuing civil suits against the Mehls.
“If they make allegations of intentional and reckless acts, you can’t wipe those things out in bankruptcy court,” he said.
But he questioned whether the victims will have much success in recovering their lost investments.
“It smells,” Evans said. “Our rumors have it that the money has gone to a place where the victims can’t get it.”
Evans said his office received information that the couple has sent money to overseas accounts.
The Mehls’ attorney, Gary Brookmyer, did not return a phone message Tuesday.