Angry Investors Confront Money Advisor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four years ago, Ventura resident Margaret Barnes sank nearly $200,000 into residential property investments she says her Camarillo-based financial planner assured her would yield moderate, long-term returns.

But Barnes says she hasn't seen a dime in months.

Angry, anxious and demanding answers, she joined dozens of other investors Tuesday who crammed into a U.S. trustee's hearing room in Santa Barbara to ask investment advisor Donald D. Lukens one question: Where did our money go?

Lukens, 50, and his wife, Denise, filed for bankruptcy protection in March, listing about 500 creditors across the nation and debts of nearly $47 million.

Creditors include the Internal Revenue Service, banks, credit card companies, Las Vegas casinos and a host of professional athletes, including NFL players Simeon Rice and Shannon Sharpe, and Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson.

But the list also includes schoolteachers, doctors, small-business owners and retirees on fixed incomes--people who say they invested their savings with Lukens in hopes of retiring comfortably and who are now struggling to get by.

"I can barely make it," said Barnes, 64, who restores antique dolls. The income from her business and her husband's retirement brings in about $19,000 annually, she said, and leaves no room for any future retirement plans. The money she invested was from an inheritance, savings and a second mortgage on her home.

"It upsets me to talk about it," Barnes said, her voice wavering as she sat in her car before the hearing. "We have nothing. I am worried about buying groceries."

Tuesday's hearing, the second held to allow creditors and a trustee assigned to the case to further examine Lukens' debts and assets, was attended by dozens of investors seeking repayment of money moved through Lukens' companies. In bankruptcy papers, Lukens estimates the couple's monthly income at $10,650 and their monthly expenses at $10,807.

The couple lists assets between $500,000 and $1 million. As for debts, court papers state that the Lukenses "borrowed substantial sums, which were used for business purposes and personal expenses."

During the hearing, trustee David Farmer asked Lukens whether he had listed all his assets in court papers and whether he had ever sheltered funds under names of business associates. Lukens said he had not.

Farmer went on to demand back tax returns and keys to a storage facility in Ventura where Lukens said he has stored business records. The trustee then scolded Lukens for failing to provide copies of personal checks as requested at a previous hearing. "I am troubled by what you gave me," Farmer said.

Lukens, a tall slender man with thinning gray hair, said he could not afford to pay the bank $1 per check to obtain copies--prompting gasps and a surly response from a creditor in the audience.

"How much is your attorney charging?" the woman snapped.

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