When Gordon Gekko told us all that "greed, for lack of a better word, is good," one reason it stuck with us culturally is that when greed is not good, it's so very obvious. Take, for example, when the financial advisor you entrust with your money decides to prove that crime does pay. Or when a politician entrusted with the good of his constituents decides to make their retirement savings less secure.
In this "What's Up, Bro?" segment from Motley Fool Answers, those two anecdotes are the leadoff items of interest for co-host Robert Brokamp. But he does have at least one inspirational tale to share with co-host Alison Southwick (and us): a timely look back at the story of a carpenter with a remarkably generous spirit, and what he did with his life savings.
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This video was recorded on Sept. 03, 2019.
Alison Southwick: So, Bro, what's up?
Robert Brokamp: Alison, I have not one, not two...
Southwick: Three. Come on, three, three, three.
Brokamp: ...but three things for you today. Yes, OK. So here we go. No. 1. Financial voodoo never pays. So gather round, children, as I tell the tale of Dawn Bennett, who was once a respected financial advisor with a radio show. She owned an online clothing store. And in 2009, she made Barron's list of top 100 women financial advisors.
Southwick: Oh, no. And here comes the voodoo.
Brokamp: Yes, that was then. As for now, Bennett was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison for defrauding 46 investors of approximately $20 million. Primarily, by inducing them to invest in her clothing store and promising 15% annual returns. So where did the money actually go?
Southwick: But why would that be illegal? Oh, because she didn't actually invest it in her business.
Southwick: There we go. I'm sorry. I'm still hinging on the hope that there's actual voodoo in this story.
Brokamp: Oh, you wait. You wait. So here is a long quote from Investment News, a trade publication about where this money went. "The evidence showed that Ms. Bennett misappropriated investor funds, using them to fund a lavish lifestyle, pay her personal legal expenses, and repay previous investors with funds she received from new investors." In other words, a Ponzi scheme.
Brokamp: But they also charged that she used the money to pay for a luxury suite at the Dallas Cowboy's football stadium. To pay a website operator to arrange for priests in India to perform religious ceremonies to ward off federal regulators and to purchase astrological gems and for cosmetic medical procedures." By the way, do you know how much it would cost to hire those priests in India?
Southwick: What? She should get her money back.
Brokamp: I'd say so. And then there's this quote from financial-planning.com. "When FBI agents searched her penthouse, they came across evidence of voodoo-type witchcraft. Bennett allegedly had instructions for how to put people under a Beef Tongue Shut Up Hoodoo Spell..."
Southwick: A shut up voodoo spell.
Brokamp: "...reportedly intended to silence individuals. And FBI agents also found two freezers containing sealed Mason jars with SEC attorneys' identifying information suggesting that she had cast the voodoo spell several times in order to paranormally silence those pursuing the case, according to an FBI affidavit submitted in court filings."
And it turns out it wasn't just clients she fooled. She fooled banks, as well -- again, according to the financial-planning.com article -- to secure a $750,000 line of credit in May of 2015. Bennett falsely told the bank that she had a brokerage account with a net portfolio worth over $4 million, but in actuality her net worth was just $35.
So the lesson here, of course, is here's a financial advisor who had all the trappings of success. Radio show. Barron's list.
Southwick: Mason jars full of beef tongue.
Brokamp: [Laughs] Exactly.
Southwick: Beef tongues. Cow tongues. Whatever.
Brokamp: So regardless of all those things, you're going to have to make sure that whatever you are actually investing in is an actual thing and I would definitely say that any time a financial advisor wants you to invest in something that she or he owns, or is something that is off the radar of just general stocks and bonds, be very careful. No. 2.
Southwick: How can you beat No. 1?
Brokamp: Yes, that's a tough one to beat. Anyways, No. 2. 403(b)s. We talk a lot on this show about 401(k)s, but many workers, particularly those who work for non-profits, or the government, or in education have something called a 403(b) and the rules are very similar to 401(k)s. The difference is that with 403(b)s often annuities are involved, which can drive up costs and sometimes political pressure is involved, which is often not in the interest of the employees.
A recent example is highlighted in a post by financial planner Tony Isola. He's a former social studies teacher who blogs at a site called "A Teachable Moment." I highly recommend it. So his post is basically on two rules that were changed for teachers in Pennsylvania and Texas. I don't want to get into all the details, but if you are a teacher in those states, definitely go to his site to learn about it.
But I do want to highlight one thing that he pointed out just to show how political pressure can influence 403(b)s. He talked about how in Texas it used to have some ludicrously high caps on the fees for 403(b)s, such as you could only have a front-end load or back-end load no higher than 6% and annual expenses couldn't be higher than 2.75%.
Which is just ridiculous; because, no one should be paying anywhere close to that. So what did Texas decide to do? Did they decide to lower these caps? No, they decided to just get rid of the caps altogether.
Southwick: There you go. Problem solved.
Brokamp: That's right. These are thanks to a bill introduced by State Rep. Dan Flynn. What was Flynn's rationale? He said, "Limiting fees may not only reduce product offerings, but also limit a company's ability to provide services." Blah blah blah.
Southwick: Blah blah blah is right.
Brokamp: "And further, focusing only on fees ignores product performance and could deny teachers access to the products that may have higher returns."
Southwick: Won't somebody think of the teachers?
Brokamp: Of course, Tony, on his post, points out that Flynn's top contributors, in terms of his...
Brokamp: An estimated $286,000 from the finance and banking industries.
Southwick: That's all. Doesn't that make you upset when you actually find out how much someone has been lobbied? Like how little amount of money it takes to lobby someone to do a lot of harm.
Brokamp: It's crazy. There's also an article I read about him that he's No. 2 in terms of the top-spending [members of the state legislature]. He even charged his Netflix subscription to his campaign. He's kind of an interesting character. Anyways, point being everyone out there, particularly with a 403(b), but everyone; expenses do matter. Study after study has shown if you have a 403(b), choose the lowest-cost option available to you.
And No. 3 we have a carpenter builds a lasting legacy. Now since we're on the verge of another football season, I was tempted to talk about Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson. Have you heard about him?
Southwick: No. I don't follow sports ball.
Brokamp: Well, anyways, he has earned an estimated $100 million over his career, but is now being sued by multiple parties for defaulting on loans worth millions of dollars.
Southwick: And I was hoping it was going to be a good story.
Brokamp: I've got a good one coming. How could he have blown so much money?
Southwick: Indian curses and beef tongue. We know this story.
Brokamp: No, bad advice and lavish spending. So here's how the website nine.com described the birthday party that Peterson threw for himself when he turned 30. "The party, itself, was set to an Arabian theme and featured belly dancers, snake charmers, and a rented lemur. Peterson also had Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx deejay the event. The NFL star arrived at the party sitting on top of a camel and then took his seat on top of a pretend throne with a python draped around his shoulders."
But I'm not going to discuss Adrian Peterson because I want to end this "What's Up, Bro" on a positive note. So instead, I'd like to tell you about Dale Schroeder who was a carpenter in Iowa for 67 years before he died in 2005. He died with two pairs of jeans, a rusty old Chevy, and $3 million.
And he didn't have any living relatives so he created a fund that would send small-town kids in Iowa to college because, he said, he never had that chance. To date the fund has paid for the education of 33 kids -- doctors, teachers, therapists, all kinds of professions. They formed a group called "Dale's Kids" and this past July they all gathered together for dinner which featured a display that included pictures of Dale as well as Dale's old lunch pail. It was there.
Southwick: No rented ferret? Or was it a lemur?
Brokamp: No lemurs or anything like that.
Southwick: They have no idea how to throw a party.
Brokamp: One of these people -- her name was Kira Conrad -- said, "I grew up in a single-parent household, and I have three older sisters, so paying for all four of us was never an option. For a man that would never meet me to give me a full ride to college is incredible." And she learned about it at her high school graduation party. She was going to tell folks that, "I just can't go to college. I don't have the money." She got the phone call from Dale's lawyer saying, "We are going to cover your whole cost," and so she broke down in tears.
The fund is administered by Dale's lawyer -- a guy named Steve Nielsen-who has told the kids, "All we ask is that you pay it forward. You can't pay it back because Dale is gone, but you can remember him, and you can emulate him." And that, Alison, is what's up.