Snowbirds Lose Millions in Florida RV Park Scam

May 24, 2010 by · Comments Off on Snowbirds Lose Millions in Florida RV Park Scam 

Folks around Moore Haven, a tiny community on the shores of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, compare Robert Lynn Joyner to Bernie Madoff, according to The News-Press, Fort Myers.

Both sold investments to people who never questioned statements showing annual 10% -12% returns. Both recruited investors linked by interests and backgrounds.

And both investment companies collapsed.

While Madoff sits in prison, Joyner lives in Hog Heaven, the name of his hunting ranch in Muse, Glades County, given a pass from state regulators who underestimated the number of investors involved and protecting his assets by filing for bankruptcy.

Joyner doesn’t hold a license to sell securities. The stock he sold was not registered with the state. Investors say he never gave them the government forms to report dividend payments to the IRS.

Nine investors who sued him forced the sale of one of his properties to pay the settlement. More than 40 other investors are suing and almost twice as many have filed as creditors in his bankruptcy case.

More than 450 investor groups, representing about 900 people, pumped at least $7.3 million into Joyner’s recreational vehicle park operations in St. Augustine, Moore Haven and Palmdale, according to company records obtained by The News-Press.

Joyner owned two RV parks and had contracts to run two other RV parks and campgrounds, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission area at Fisheating Creek in Palmdale and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park at Lake Okeechobee, which he continues to operate.

The mostly older snowbird population invested as little as $250 to more than $100,000 in Joyner’s companies. Most, instead of taking cash dividends, opted to reinvest their guaranteed interest income in Joyner’s stock.

Deal gone bad

From 1999 until 2006, as investors poured money into Joyner’s ventures, he said he spent money developing the parks. Campers approached him, Joyner said, wanting to buy into his thriving businesses.

“I told everyone: ‘Please. Don’t invest if you can’t afford to,’” Joyner said in an interview outside a bankruptcy courtroom in Fort Myers on Thursday. Joyner, 53, said he also lost everything and investors shouldn’t blame him.

“I worked my butt off to make this work,” Joyner said.

The money was spent building up and repairing the parks, Joyner said. His back gives him trouble from pouring concrete to make RV pads at Robin’s Nest, the RV park he owned in Moore Haven. He said the money went into the clubhouse, swimming pool and electric bills.

It’s wrong, he said, “to say I took money in a Ponzi scheme.”

Feeling angry

“If it had been anyone else, I would have known better,” said Barbara Wilber, 67, of Beaverton, Mich., who with her husband and other family members put $100,000 into Joyner’s businesses. Even Wilber’s granddaughter, who was 12 at the time, invested, using money she won from a 4-H project.

“I feel very angry and very betrayed,” Wilber said.

In 2000, Alice and Delos Goodrich — now in their 80s — invested $10,000 in Robin’s Nest RV Park and later $10,000 in Joyner’s St. Augustine RV park business called Beachcomber.

They invested in Beachcomber, the Goodriches said, after Joyner told them he had to pay off another investor.

Soon after receiving the Goodriches’ $10,000, Joyner bought out the shares of three members of one family who invested in Beachcomber, paying $3,132 to each.

Using money from new investors to pay off earlier investors didn’t raise red flags for the Goodriches.

“We were getting 2% in our bank account and he was offering 12%,” Delos Goodrich said.

License and registration

The largest investments in Joyner’s operations were made at Robin’s Nest. Investors describe being invited to meetings at the clubhouse. Potential investors heard sales pitches based more on faith than fact.

“We would all sit around and listen to all this stuff,” said Nancy Radig, 63, of Titusville. “They would hand out handwritten info … copied off a copier.”

Joyner said he didn’t employ salespeople, market or advertise; stock sales were sometimes made by friends.

Neither Joyner nor any of the people investors say sold certificates are licensed to sell securities in the state, according to the Office of Financial Regulation.

If the stock wasn’t registered, Joyner said, that wasn’t his fault. He hired an attorney and “met with the state in ’03 and ’04 and they checked everything out,” Joyner said.

“Get them registered,” Joyner said he told his attorney, Stephen Alexander of St. Augustine. “I figured (the attorney) took care of it.”

“I only became his attorney in 2003 and 2004 when the state started looking at him. He hired me to represent him if he was criminally prosecuted,” said Alexander, a former state attorney.

Alexander said he didn’t know anything about securities. If Joyner had asked him about registering the securities for sale, Alexander said, “I would have told him you’ve got the wrong guy.”

The state closed its investigation because, Alexander said, “We found a loophole. You can sell shares to a corporation (without registration) for up to 35 stockholders.”

Company records show that prior to 2003, Joyner had 89 investor groups with stock in Joyner’s Beachcomber deal. Joyner, by this time, also had sold shares of unregistered stock in Robin’s Nest and the marina where he had more than 100 investor groups owning stock.

But Alexander said records Joyner gave him at the time, which were shared with state investigators, showed fewer than 35 investor groups who had purchased stock in Beachcomber.

Beachcomber sold in 2008 for $7.5 million and Alexander said he notified investors before the sale they would get money. But Joyner, he said, didn’t pay investors or a judgment from a personal injury lawsuit.

Joyner said Beachcomber’s new owners didn’t pay him the full amount and after paying loans on the property he didn’t have money left. Records show Joyner holds a second mortgage on the property and $4 million is owed.

Selling stock

Marshall Flournoy invested in Joyner’s companies, gave Joyner loans and recruited investors for which he was paid in stock, he said.

“It’s hard to believe he was a con from the beginning,” Flournoy said of Joyner. “I’d seen him help widows and people who needed operations. He would sell their stock or let them stay without paying their extra lot rental.”

Flournoy thought so highly of Joyner, he said, that when Joyner told him he needed a kidney transplant, Flournoy, who is 81, offered him one of his.

Flournoy had contracted hepatitis when he was a missionary in South America, making him ineligible for an organ donation, he said. Joyner, however, denied he ever had kidney problems.

Flournoy used his religious affiliation to recruit investors.

Former missionary L. Byron Harbin of Hattiesburg, Miss., who wasn’t an RV traveler, has never been to Joyner’s parks and has never met Joyner. He invested $100,000 in the businesses.

“I was basically putting my confidence in it based on Mr. Flournoy’s recommendation and I had confidence in him,” Harbin said.

Harbin said he never saw a prospectus but read letters of endorsement. And, he said, he spoke with Joyner by phone.

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