A blue-collar Wakatipu widow left skint by a recent half-billion dollar investment company collapse says she faces being a cleaning worker till she dies.
Kingston’s Bev Nicholson – the first local victim to speak out – says one-man-band David Ross, of Wellington, convinced her not to withdraw her investment after her partner passed away in 2009.
Nicholson had been led to believe the $50,000 she and partner Roger Macaskill invested five years earlier had doubled.
“After Roger died, that’s when I rang him up, I wanted it out, and he talked me into just taking some out, which I did – I took $20,000 out.
“He was supposed to [also] give me $6000 a year – it never happened.”
Nicholson didn’t smell a rat: “Not really, I believed him, I mean he was very believable.”
Nicholson says her partner used to warn her about Ross – “I told Roger off, one time”.
Three years later in November, last year, Ross Asset Management (RAM) collapsed – along with a nest egg she’d been led to believe was at $170,000.
Liquidator John Fisk, appointed to manage RAM and associated entities, has said its affairs bore the hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme, in which investor returns are paid from new investors’ contributions.
About 900 investors, owed $450 million, have been told about $11m has been found.
“I was in total shock,” Nicholson says, of the Ross firm collapse.
“I was so angry to find out that, no, you’re not going to get your money back – it was a rip, it was all a load of shit. I absolutely hate him.”
Nicholson says at times she feels so angry she could go up there and shoot him: “If [I thought] I could get away with I’d do it.”
Nicholson vents her spleen instead at a dartboard in her kitchen with Ross’ head on it, a Christmas present: “It gives you a little bit of satisfaction.”
Nicholson says her nest egg’s gone: “I’ve got no money. I’m 50 and I’m cleaning and I’m on my own and it leaves me in a bad position.
“I pay my way but there’s not a lot left, I don’t save anything since Roger died. I’ll probably have to keep cleaning till I drop.”
Some of Nicholson’s greatest bile is reserved for government financial regulator the Financial Markets Authority (FMA), which approved Ross as a financial advisor two years ago.
“I mean, how bloody ignorant can you get? That means an FMA certification means nothing.”
Nicholson is also upset the FMA – investigating Ross’ affairs along with the Serious Fraud Office – still hasn’t pinged him.
“The whole things pisses me off that he’s not in jail, that he hasn’t been charged, that he’s still living in a $5m mansion and gets a grand a week [for living expenses].
“They’ve frozen his assets so I don’t know where the grand a week comes from.”
Head of a RAM investors’ group Bruce Tichbon estimates 27 Wakatipu investors have done their dough, telling Mountain Scene last week some lost life savings and are “suffering horrifically”.
In a recent interview with TV3’s 3rd Degree, FMA boss Sean Hughes confirms his body authorised Ross as a financial advisor: “We take accountability for that – these failings did occur during a period of time when the FMA was in existence so we’re not running away from responsibility.”
Liquidator Fisk hasn’t ruled out pursuing gains paid out to RAM investors who made money, telling 3rd Degree he’s taking legal advice on that.