CLEARWATER — Gary L. Gauthier, the former host of a Saturday morning Christian radio show called “It’s God’s Money,” is one of two men arrested this month in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded 38 people in the Tampa Bay area of $6 million, according to court documents.
Gauthier, 64, who now lives in Okemos, Mich., was arrested last week in Tampa, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. David George Dreslin, 54, of Seminole, was arrested earlier in the month, the FDLE reported.
The two are charged with one count of racketeering, one count of conspiring to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity, two counts of organized fraud, six counts of the sale of an unregistered security, six counts of the sale of a security by an unregistered dealer and two counts of security fraud.
Dreslin attracted people through his accounting practice, and Gauthier’s victims were the listeners of his Tampa radio shows, “It’s God’s Money” and “It’s All About Florida Real Estate,” the documents say.
They were, for a time, broadcast on Tampa radio station WTBN and WGUL. General manager Barbara Yoder didn’t return a telephone call Wednesday for comment.
“A majority of the victims stated they relied upon the statements made by Gauthier because they were made on a Christian radio station,” according to the document charging the pair.
“Most of the victims were elderly, ... over the age of 60,” the document says.
Denise Ferrari, a 62-year-old retired dental technician and postal worker living in Clearwater, was one of the victims. She said she was persuaded to deposit her $86,000 IRA in a company set up by the two men, and now she’s suing them to get the money back.
“They put this guy on the air,” Ferrari said. “Folks called in and said, ‘We don’t have to work again because we invested in Gary Gauthier.’
“I was shocked to find out it was a Ponzi scheme,” Ferrari said. “How was I to know? How were the victims to know?”
The scheme occurred from April 20, 2005, through Aug. 15, with the men soliciting people in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
On his radio shows, Gauthier provided a telephone number listeners could call so he could meet them at their homes, a restaurant or in Dreslin’s office, the documents state.
The people were encouraged to invest tens of thousands of dollars in various real estate development projects, the documents say. They were told they would see a return of 8 percent to 40 percent in a relatively short period, the documents state.
But in most cases they saw no return on their investment, and “as a result, victims have lost their homes and many have lost their entire retirement,” the documents say.
“Gauthier and Dreslin convinced them to liquidate their annuities, cash out their retirement accounts and, in some instances, to take cash out of the equity of their homes to invest in various pre-construction or existing real estate ventures,” the charging document states.
And contrary to what clients were told, Gauthier and Dreslin didn’t put up their own money for the ventures, the documents state.
As examples, investors together raised $60,000, ostensibly to be put toward the purchase of a condominium at 1010 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg, the documents state. But some of the money was diverted to a different property at the Royal Orleans, a 10-unit condominium building on Gulf Shores Boulevard in Redington Beach. Investors had no stake in this venture.
The victims also were told their investments were going toward, among other developments, a three-bedroom preconstruction condominium at 400 Beach Drive in St. Petersburg; a condominium at 4201 Bayshore Blvd. in Tampa, also known as The Bellamy on Bayshore; and a preconstruction town home at 300 Capri Blvd. in Treasure Island.
Other properties pitched were land in Palmetto Beach earmarked for a town home community, a preconstruction condominium at the Water’s Edge complex on Clearwater Bay in downtown Clearwater, a 75-unit town home development on McKay Bay known as Bermuda Vista, and a residential development in West Tampa known as Palm River Acres.