Lives Are Forever Changed in Wake Of New Martinsville Budget Finance Company Scheme
The Intelligencer – Billy Arnolds is 75 years old, but he figures he will be working for the rest of his life after losing $350,000 in what has been called the largest Ponzi scheme in West Virginia’s history.
Arnolds, a Jacksonburg, W.Va., resident was among hundreds victimized by Donna Brown, owner of the former Budget Finance Co. in New Martinsville. He was among those who shared their stories during last week’s sentencing hearing for Brown, who will spend the next 10 years and one month in a federal prison for her crimes.
“I’m not ashamed of anything,” Arnolds said. “The good Lord will give (Brown) what she needs. If God wanted us to have our money back, we’d have it — right now.”
Arnolds presented a positive, yet realistic outlook on what is in store for him. He said he can’t live on Social Security alone, so the former service station worker, school bus driver and worker in the oil and gas business said he figures he will be working the rest of his life.
There was plenty of pain to go around in Judge Frederick Stamp’s courtroom — from the trickle of tears on numerous faces and the cracking voices during anger-filled statements, to accounts of families torn apart by recruiting each other into investing with Brown, then ultimately suffering financial ruin.
“It’s the case that bothers me the most,” said Wetzel County Prosecutor Tim Haught, who said he was the first to hear about the company closing its doors without notice in November 2015. “Not many state prosecutors have a case with 800 victims.”
The total amount of loss could exceed the estimated $31 million, he said.
Federal investigators continue adding to the list of victims and the amount each invested — and lost. That list is due to Stamp by April 17, when the judge will figure the final amount and terms of Brown’s restitution.
Brown’s clients, mostly people over the age of about 65, put in a range of investment sums from $5,000 to $400,000, Haught said. In many cases, they have lost their entire life savings.
According to Stamp, as a result of Brown’s crime, some victims have gone without food. Some suffer embarrassment, fear, anxiety and grief, or continue to go without sleep. Some have lost the ability to retire or afford higher education, he said, reading from what he called a summary of ways hundreds of victims said they’ve been harmed.
It wasn’t until her scheme collapsed and investors began to complain, that any government body knew she was doing something illegal.
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