DENVER - They invested their life savings with a self-proclaimed "Man of God," who said he knew the secrets to protecting one's financial future. But across the country, customers of a Colorado-based company say they were left empty-handed and in some cases, out hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I don’t feel that I'm a gullible individual, but we've been taken," one Wyoming man said, who agreed to share the story he and his wife have lived through if we did not use their names.
The couple first saw Larry Bates, owner of First American Monetary Consultants, on a Christian television show a few years ago. They listened to Bates discuss his views on economics and religion multiple times, and ultimately purchased Bates' book, "A Nation in Crisis: The Meltdown of Money, Government, and Religion."
"We felt like he was a Christian. He knew the Bible and what it was saying about End Times," the Wyoming man's wife said.
She says Bates stressed the urgency of taking control of their finances and minimizing reliance on banks to protect their money. So the couple drained their retirement accounts to withdraw $226,000 — incurring an additional $92,000 in tax penalties as a result. They used the $226,000 to buy gold and silver coins from FAMC, because Bates claimed precious metals were a safer option than keeping their money in the bank, as he predicted a major economic collapse on the horizon.
"We worked hard all our lives. We've accumulated some funds and we needed to do what we could do to protect our assets," the man said. "And to me, that's what we were doing."
As the couple sat in FAMC's Fort Collins office in October 2010 and wrote their check, they say they prayed with the company representative.
"There was just the reassurance that we felt, dealing with someone we thought was a Christian," the man said.
But three years and dozens of excuses later, the couple has still not received a single gold or silver coin.
"We invested everything we had, and we lost everything," the woman said.
It's a similar story for North Carolina resident Greg Klouda. He was looking to protect part of his retirement when he heard Bates' pitch on a religious television show.
"It was very convincing. He goes back biblically and says gold has always been worth something, and it always has," Klouda said.
Klouda sent in nearly $20,000, expecting to receive his gold coins right away. Now, two years later, he's still waiting.
"I have lost so much sleep. I've had so much anxiety and anger about this," Klouda said. "To me, they're just scoundrels."
Documents also show a couple from Geneva, Ohio reported investing $160,000 for 411 gold coins. The complaint says they were promised the coins within 25-to-45 business days. As of this October, the complaint says 329 of the coins were still undelivered.
The author of the Ohio complaint says her stepdaughter was diagnosed with bone cancer during this time period. She hoped to recoup some of her investment from FAMC to help pay for the treatment, and says she wrote emails explaining the situation and demanding the gold.
Later, the couple sent FAMC the woman's obituary.
Two Arizona affidavits tell the stories of sons who lost their mothers to cancer while trying to recoup investments from FAMC to pay for the treatments.
So who is Larry Bates?
He's an economist, author, and served as a Tennessee State Representative in the 1970s. The CALL7 Investigators also found Bates owns several properties, including a three-story, 11,000 sq. ft., elevator-equipped multi-million dollar mansion in Middleton, TN that he built in 2011.
"I don't know how he can call himself a Christian when he's stealing from people," the Wyoming man said.
Bates is also facing an $80 million federal civil lawsuit filed by FAMC clients.
The CALL7 Investigators obtained consumer complaints filed with state agencies in Ohio, Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. But when we asked for Colorado's complaints, the Attorney General refused to release the documents. The AG would only disclose that it has received 32 complaints against FAMC since 2008.
In fact, the Colorado AG has taken no action against FAMC, claiming it "contemplated an investigation" but says it was later told by law enforcement to "stand down." The AG's office did not specify a time frame for either claim.
Despite that request, the AG continued to push complaints to the Northern Colorado and Wyoming Better Business Bureau, as it had for many years previously, to mediate the complaints. Yet the BBB, a non-government organization with no regulatory power, admits that FAMC refused to respond to complaints beginning in 2010, and the Colorado AG never checked back to see if the complaints were being resolved.
"Obviously they are not circling the wagons and shutting this thing down," the Wyoming man said.
Meanwhile, our investigation found Tennessee has placed FAMC on its "Buyer Beware" list, and Illinois has banned FAMC from doing business in its state.
The CALL7 Investigators also learned the FBI has opened a criminal investigation into FAMC, and has sent letters to Bates' customers seeking more information about their investments. So far, no criminal charges have been filed.
"They should have been arrested a long time ago, that's what I believe," Klouda said.
Klouda and the Wyoming couple say they've lost more than their money-- they've lost faith in the Colorado officials that they say could have stepped in long ago.
"The state I think is at fault," the Wyoming man said. "If they have knowledge of what is going on, what is taking place, what continues to go on and have done nothing, they are no better than Dr. Bates in my book."
Why do they keep letting more people get taken in? Cut him off," the Wyoming woman said.
As a result of an ongoing federal civil lawsuit, a judge in Tennessee has appointed a receiver that is now overseeing FAMC to assess the company's finances.
Our repeated calls to Bates were not returned.