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2 Cornelius businessmen admitted to running a Ponzi-style investment scheme. Federal prosecutors say it ran for more than a decade

The duo admitted they didn't tell investors the whole story about their operation.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A pair of Cornelius businessmen pleaded guilty in federal court this week to wire fraud conspiracy charges for conducting what prosecutors called a large-scale, Ponzi-style investment scheme that went on for 12 years.

The U.S. District Attorney's Office said Marlin Hershey and Dana Bradley, both 53 years old, kept the scheme going from 2009 until 2021. The duo defrauded several victims who invested in two unregistered securities offerings they promoted: Retire on Rentals and Distressed Lending Fund (DLF). Both projects eventually failed, inflicting major losses on investors.

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The duo was able to court investors by giving them materials with false and misleading statements without disclosing material information. For example, neither of the men shared they received commission-like payments based on the number of investments they sold - typically 10% of an investor's initial investment  - plus additional payments when investors extended investments. Rather, they claimed nobody would be paid a commission. 

In reality, the businessmen got hundreds of thousands of dollars in undisclosed payments from the sale of securities, along with regular undisclosed "management fees" from both Retire on Rentals and DLF.

Hershey and Bradley also didn't tell investors about other details, including negative information about themselves and the financial woes faced by some of the entities they solicited investments for. Since the pair often solicited the same group of investors, they took steps to hide the financial difficulties by making undisclosed loans to other entities. In turn, those entities could make the required interest payments to investors.

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The duo also solicited new investors and used the new money coming in to repay the loans and make Ponzi-style payments to previous investors. Additionally, they sent investors periodic performance reports that failed to disclose the status and health of their investments.

It wouldn't be until 2019 that investors learned for the first time that the projects they invested in were in financial distress and could no longer meet significant obligations.

Both men pleaded guilty on Friday, June 2, 2023. They were released on bond, but could each face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 maximum. Sentencing dates are not yet set.

The Securities Division of the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office and the FBI led the joint investigation.

WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to WCNC Charlotte by emailing money@wcnc.com.

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