Investor used more than $20 million of clients' money to fund a lavish lifestyle

A 2006 Aston Martin, fine art and a baseball card collection including signatures from Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth were seized from the home of Shawn Merriman.

The lay bishop in the Mormon church ran a Ponzi scheme for more than a decade and stole millions from his investors, which included friends, church members and even his own mother.

Postal inspectors say Merriman initially wanted to start a legitimate investment firm, but things quickly went south.

"Early on he made some poor business decisions with trades and got himself upside down and started to recognize how he had control of these investors' money," said Pamela Durkee, a postal inspector. "He could do whatever he wanted with it."

What Merriman apparently wanted was the good life.

"He started taking money from investors, spending it on trips all over the world, including safaris, trips to Europe, using it for his own personal gain," said Durkee.

More than 70 friends, family and members of his church invested more than $20 million over 15 years.

"He kept sending statements to his clients advising them of their earnings, and their statement said they were earning in the range he represented: 7-10 percent," said Durkee. "So no one was really the wiser as to what was really going on."

Tim Gilmartin was one of those investors. He heard about Merriman through a classic car restoration club.

"We put in initially $50,000 and went up to $110,000," said Gilmartin. "I was in shock. I was numb. We heard he never invested a penny."

To avoid ending up a victim of a fraudulent investor, check your monthly and yearly statements with the actual fund groups your advisor is buying to see if the statements are accurate.

Merriman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Postal inspectors seized more than $5 million in personal property from his home and will return a percentage to investors.

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