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Suspected scams target Carbon County citizens

Sun Advocate community editor

On Monday, Helper Fire Chief Mike Zamantakis contacted the Sun Advocate to warn Carbon County residents about questionable fundraising calls from an out-of-state company. Claiming they are the Professional Fire Fighters of Utah, the callers are soliciting contributions to supposedly help local fire departments

Zamantakis indicated that no Helper fire fighters have heard of the organization and the local department is not involved in the telemarketing fundraising effort.

For most people, contributing over the telephone to someone they may not know is not likely to happen. However, many scam artists have a way of working their way into people's lives and pocketbooks. And sometimes people who are scammed, but don't know it, become intermediaries for more scams.

Some Carbon County residents are experiencing the reality of falling victim to an apparent scam. One man involved in civil lawsuits concerning misuse of investor money is being brought before Judge Steven Hansen in Provo on charges of securities fraud and racketeering.

Michael J. Fitzgerald of Alpine, who was in charge of several companies in the last few years, purportedly used a number of agents around the state to sell securities for properties he was to purchase. The properties included some in California that investors were reportedly told would be a sure thing in terms of growth. One of the companies investors in the local area heard about was Beverly Hills Development. The company was supposed to buy houses in the Beverly Hills area, fix the structures up and then resell the residences at large profits.

Business investments are always a risk. But when the Beverly Hills company started to fall apart, many investors claimed they were told things were going fine and were asked to keep investing money in the project.

Legal documents indicate here were 29 separate investors from Carbon and Emery counties involved in Fitzgerald's business dealings. In Utah, there were more than 320 investors, with the largest number coming from Box Elder County. But the alleged business scheme was not limited to Utah. Federal investigators have found investors living in California, Florida and North Carolina as well.

Many plans purchased in Carbon County were purportedly sold by an agent who worked with Fitzgerald in the local area. Fitzgerald had more than six agents selling for him in Utah and, according to a United States Attorney General's Office investigation, most of the parties in question were unlicensed to sell securities. Many Utah and Castle Valley residents invested more than $100,000.

The names of the agents have not been released by the attorney general's office. But according to criminal prosecutors, the individuals are currently working on plea deals in the case.

Fitzgerald has reportedly been trying to work out a plea bargain with the state to pay back at least some of the money involved in the matter during the next few years.

In addition, several lawsuits have been filed against Fitzgerald and his companies. In one suit, Lehman Brothers Bank in California claims homes financed through fraudulent loans were not worth the value for which houses were approved.

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