What a mess the Bakersfield Investment Club left behind.
After the club’s assets were frozen in March amid a federal lawsuit accusing its leader of fraud, the man appointed to unravel the BIC’s finances has reported widespread problems with the way the organization’s assets were managed.
Rents went uncollected, he said, a neglected oil company was on the verge of losing its leases and titles were lost to four vehicles owned by the club.
More recently, court-appointed receiver David Stapleton told the court this month, some investors who took partial ownership of various properties as part of the club’s January liquidation plan have resisted his efforts to seize assets he says should be turned over and sold to raise money for a final distribution of the group’s assets.
Stapleton’s updates to the court are the latest turn in a drama that has hurt investors — some 400 people from Hawaii to New York — who trusted club founder Daniel R. Nase with what prosecutors estimate was a total of $11.6 million in contributions. The receiver’s level of success will largely determine how much money club members eventually recover.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit in mid-March alleging Nase misappropriated millions of dollars of investor funds for his personal benefit. It said the defendant wrongly credited himself for making contributions that actually belonged to the club.
His wife, Margarita, was named as a “relief defendant,” meaning she is believed to be an innocent party holding funds to which she may not have a legitimate claim.
Nase’s Los Angeles attorney, Scott Vick, has filed papers in court saying his client disclosed all his actions to club investors, and therefore there is no basis for the SEC’s allegations of fraudulent misrepresentation. Vick also asserted Nase relied on the legal opinion of his Bakersfield lawyer, who was not identified in the lawsuit.
Vick did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Neither did Stapleton.
A PARTIAL ACCOUNTING
The Bakersfield Investment Club was founded in 2013 by Nase, a former county appraiser who claimed to have 16 years of real estate investment experience. Taking in shareholder money under a variety of names, such as Los Angeles Investment Club and San Diego County Investment Club, the organization's stated purpose was to purchase, own, rent or flip real property.
No criminal charges have been brought against the Nases.
In the recent civil legal filings, Stapleton said he has reviewed the club’s books and records, and he believes its holdings are worth between $3.5 million and $5.5 million. The receiver said he hopes to gather various assets — among them up to $200,000 in solar panels and automobiles worth at least $20,000 — then set up a claims process for investors and other club creditors.
As of June 6, Stapleton had recovered $412,156.30 in cash, including $95,677.77 found in Daniel Nase’s personal bank account. Another $500,000 was discovered in Nase’s personal LendingClub.com account; Stapleton said he was trying to figure out where that half million dollars came from.
His efforts to preserve the club’s assets and maximize their income has led Stapleton to actively oversee the team managing BIC’s 62 residential real estate properties.
In doing so, he learned some of the properties’ tenants were not paying rent. Stapleton said he has contacted all renters with past-due balances to insist on immediate payment or he will initiate evictions. He did not indicate how many had fallen behind on their payments or how much, in total, they owed.
The receiver also noted he had identified vacant properties owned by the club, and that he has since taken steps to fill them. He did not state how many of the rentals, or what percentage, were unoccupied.
Also in disarray was a club-owned oil company, according to Stapleton. He said the business, WM Petroleum, suffered from “substantially deferred maintenance and other neglect” that compromised its productivity.
The receiver said he “restructured” the team running the oil company and reached out to the refinery that buys its oil in order to collect club revenues and improve cash flow. Stapleton said he also addressed “regulatory compliance and environmental matters” and took steps to preserve lease rights “including via the payment of outstanding royalties.”
He also noted the oil company was not insured when took over as receiver, but that it now is covered by general liability insurance.
The club’s solar power investments have disappointed as well, Stapleton said. With an inventory of photovoltaic panels, electrical control units and power inverters, the club’s solar holdings were initially valued at as much as $500,000.
But because solar technology is developing quickly, he said, these assets have depreciated badly. Written offers by potential buyers have led him to re-estimate their value at between $100,000 and $200,000.
Four vehicles owned by club entities posed a separate hassle. Stapleton said the defendants told him they lost title documentation to the vehicles, a 2011 Lexus ES 350, a 2006 Ford E-150 Econoline van, a 1990 Toyota Supra and a 1993 Dodge Dakota Sport. The receiver said he is working with the Department of Motor Vehicles to get replacement titles.
Stapleton also told the court he has confirmed Margarita Nase has a 2004 Bentley Continental she says was bought with money not connected to the club. The receiver said he is investigating her claim, and that he will ask the court to turn it over to him if it turns out the Bentley was purchased with investor money.
A particular challenge for the receiver has been working with investors who took over club assets as part of January’s liquidation plan, which the lawsuit called into question. Stapleton said some of these individuals don’t want to return what they were given.
“Specifically, a substantial number of investors balked at the receiver’s assertion of jurisdiction and control, and had to be educated regarding the scope and purpose of the receivership, the allegations regarding the propriety of the pre-receivership liquidation plan, and the fact that their interests may not have been conferred in a manner consistent with their actual investment value of contribution,” he said in a June 6 court filing.