RACINE, Wis. — A Racine woman lost her retirement because she says a trusted friend took her money. Diane Londre worked since she was a teenager. She saved and invested everything she could for her eventual retirement. But in 2012, her lawyer Anne Cohen, who is speaking with TMJ4 News on Diane’s behalf, tells us that retirement came much earlier than expected.
"She had broken her back and learned that she could no longer work, and wanted to make sure that the funds she had in her 401k were in a secure account. Because she quickly was learning that was all of the wealth she was going to amass in her lifetime due to her disability,” said Cohen.
Diane turned to her longtime tax preparer, Michael Cuccia, a man she considered a friend, for advice. According to a lawsuit filed against Cuccia’s estate by Diane, “Cuccia advised [Diane] Londre to remove funds from her 401k account and invest in Cuccia’s business, My IRA, LLC.”
"He represented to her that, you know, this was a secure investment, that there was no risk of loss, that there was a guarantee of 5% interest per year. And so you know, after years and years of friendship and going to him for tax advice, she trusted his advice,” said Cohen.
In November of 2020, Cuccia died suddenly. When Diane went to find out about the state of retirement - she was shocked.
"She learned that there were no assets,” said Cohen.
Diane also learned she wasn’t alone.
"Based on my review of the probate file, it does seem that there are other people who specifically pulled their money out of 401k plans. But there's a big range: some people invested $5,000, some people invested $200,000,” said Cohen.
Cohen says there's about a million dollars in investments. But court records show there is only $200,000 in assets in Cuccia’s estate. We reached out to the attorneys who represent Cuccia’s estate and they declined to do an interview.
Robin Jacobs with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions Enforcement Bureau says there are things you should watch out for when it comes to investing your money. First, if someone promises there is no risk in the investment, that is a major red flag.
"When you invest your money in something, it means you're going to take a risk in exchange for getting a return. Of course there's no guarantee,” said Jacobs.
Other things to watch out for:
It is also important to find out if the person watching over your investments is trained and licensed.
"Investors can call our office, and we can tell them whether that person is registered either as an investment advisor or a broker dealer, and if they're not registered in the trying to sell you a security, I would be very suspicious of that person,” said Jacobs.
For Diane and the others who invested in Cuccia’s business, they are now waiting on the courts to see if any of their retirement will be returned to them. But Diane is worried her life savings is gone.
”I do know that she with her disability and her pension, she's getting by. But again, it's, you know, the car breaks down, the furnace breaks down, somebody has a medical emergency. She really doesn't have anything to fall back on,” said Cohen.
The State of Wisconsin does offer ways to check on the people you invest your money with. You can either check here online or call 608-266-2139 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.