Wilton Station Ponzi Scheme Uncovers New Victim
A current resident and an ex-resident of Wilton Station have confirmed the details in last week’s expose - and have a few details of their own to share. In its last issue, the SFGN cover story reported the stories of alleged victims of a Ponzi scheme by George Elia. The victims claimed local resident Jim Ellis introduced them to Elia - the con artist who swindled them. No criminal charges have been filed against Elia or Ellis, but sources claim Elia is under investigation by the FBI.
SFGN’s sources stated that Ellis furthered the scheme. The sources claimed he would meet up with the alleged victims at parties hosted by Ellis’s own daughter, Janet, who manages the property at Wilton Station, where many of the victims live. Promising hefty returns on their investments, the parties would serve as "ice-breakers" and be held in Janet’s home, or at nearby bars in Wilton Manors.
Since the story was published last Wednesday, more alleged victims have spoken out. Sandra Rich, 80, has been a resident of Wilton Station since 2008. That’s how she came to know Janet, and later her father, Jim Ellis, and then Elia.
"I didn’t know that Janet was Jim’s daughter," she said. "She was very pleasant with me - wanted to go lunch often. We didn’t have a negative relationship."
On New Year’s Eve 2010, Ellis introduced Rich to Elia, and to people who he claimed had made money by investing with Elia. Rich had reason to trust Ellis. She had business associations with him dating back to the 1990’s, when he had worked at a car dealership, where she attempted to purchase a Cadillac. They reconnected in 2008 after she moved into Wilton Station.
Ellis approached her about his new investment partner. "’All of these people are making money, except you,’" Rich said Ellis told her, adding that this new project paid so much more than the bank.
Rich recalls Ellis commenting that "The bank was giving so little, so when someone’s offering 5 to 8 percent, it’s something you can expect to get from a good investor." She did some research and talked to fellow residents, who confirmed that they were getting statements showing they were making money.
Over a burger and a grey-goose-on-the-rocks-with-a-splash-of-soda at the Capitol Grille, Rich said she handed Jim Ellis a check for $20,000, made out to George Elia. At the table were Ellis, Elia, Rich and her life partner. She would also later sell some jewelry, in order to invest an additional $9,000.
It worked like a charm, Rich told SFGN. Her statements showed strong returns. She even asked for small returns three times, and in each instance, Elia obliged with electronic payments, between one thousand and fifteen hundred dollars.
"You had no reason to think that anything was wrong," she said. "Elia’s a really nice man." She even remembers the same sentiment coming from Janet, whom she once asked about Elia.
"She said ’Oh, he’s fabulous, you have nothing to worry about,’" Rich said.
Janet Ellis has still not remarked to SFGN, but within days of the story, the Board of Directors of the Homeowners Association at Wilton Station came to her defense. They sent out a letter to "members and residents" on Feb. 29 in response to the newspaper’s article about Ellis and his daughter.
"The Board is not aware of any pending criminal investigation involving Ms. Ellis and Ms. Ellis has also vehemently denied any involvement in such a scheme," the letter reads. "The current Board of your Association has complete faith in the capability and integrity of Ms. Ellis and has found that the allegations against her do not impact her ability to continue to do an astounding job for your association."
The letter went on to claim that SFGN’s article was based on the claims of a single "resident," failing to note that by the time of its publication, SFGN had confirmed the authenticity of the story with interviews from six different sources.
The letter also noted that Continental Group, whom Janet Ellis works for, is "one of their better property managers and the Continental Group strongly supports Ms. Ellis’ position at Wilton Station." Because of that, the board has decided to not take any independent action against Janet.
A receptionist at Wilton Station refused to connect SFGN to anyone who might be able to comment on the situation.
Meanwhile, toward the end of 2011, Rich wanted to know how much was left in her accounts.
"My partner was very sick at the time," she said. "I was more concerned with my personal problems than with these accounts."
During this time though, a fellow resident informed her of some "terrible news," reiterating the same story, that "Ellis-works-with-Elia-and-it’s-all-a-scam."
"I called George up and said, ’there’s a house I can get, but I need to put down a deposit,’" asking for a return of some of her funds. Elia, according to Rich, changed the subject and said he was in the hospital, and needed ten days. Rich said she sympathized with Elia, but still insisted on getting back at least five thousand dollars. Elia refused, sending her back weeks later only $1,000 in cash of her $30,000 investment.
"I called [Ellis] and said, ’Jim, what kind of crap is this?’" Rich said. She reminded him that he promised her he’d take care of her if anything happened. At this point, Ellis told her he couldn’t do anything, and that he too had been duped, adding that he’d be losing his house and cars.
It even got to the point where Rich approached Janet, who she said accused her of lying and that Rich had indeed gotten all of her money back.
"I just don’t understand how someone can steal from someone," Rich said. "I want my money. I live from check-to-check, I have maybe $800 in the bank. You can’t even trust your friends - it’s unfortunate we live in that kind of a world."
With 12 others, Rich has hired the law firm Becker and Poliakoff, the same firm that represented victims of Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. Daniel DeSouza, the local attorney for the firm, said that he’s still gathering information and testimony in preparation for an eventual lawsuit.
SFGN attempted to again reach Jim Ellis for comment, but he has not replied. Previously, before abruptly ending the conversation by hanging up on SFGN, Ellis asserted he too is a victim of Elia.
However, Ellis has previously shown a willingness to speak up when his character has come into question. Six months ago, a resident of Wilton Station sent an email to his daughter, the property manager. The email accused Ellis of having sex with a male prostitute in the parking lot of the condo complex. In response, Ellis sued the resident in Broward County Court for defamation and libel. The claim is now pending.
Bob Battersby had moved into Wilton Station in January 2010, but within three months he put his condo back on the market, he said. Battersby, who has since moved out, also confirmed to SFGN the details of Janet’s parties and her father’s appearance at the functions.
Battersby, who never did invest, added that he had been solicited himself. "They tried to woo me," he said. "Because I didn’t get involved, I was ostracized a little bit."
"I knew it wasn’t a healthy situation...they tried to cozy up - to be buddy-buddy," he said. "I had already been warned that there was a Ponzi scheme. It involved a lot of happy hour crap - alcohol and the such - that’s not my style."
With a touch of irony, having not invested a penny or lost a dime, Battersby concluded he was grateful he had never joined Wilton Station’s unofficial "investment club." As SFGN will continue to reveal in the coming weeks, many other people were not so lucky.