It’s difficult not to remember P.T Barnum’s quote that “There is a sucker born every minute,” or that “a fool and his money are soon parted” each time I’m called on to report on a Ponzi scheme. But John K. Marcum took these maxims to heart and acted the comb in parting nearly 40 investors, in six different states, from their hard-earned retirement funds, according to an SEC filing.

John Marcum Ponzi scheme

John K. Marcum’s ponzi scheme

The brazenness and ultimate investments made by Mr. Marcum are just, well, the stuff of fiction. Mr. Marcum helped his suckers/investors set up IRA accounts before gaining access to them. From there his company, Guaranty Reserves Trust, made a number of ill-advised trades that lost around $900,000. There is nothing illegal about that, but what the SEC claims came next is pure folly. His first misstep, of which there are many, came when he began sending investors account statements that were nothing short of glowing. The statements showed investors that he was returning for more than 20 percent.

And now into the breach of the bizarre, The SEC said Marcum used investors’ money to get a $3 million line of credit at the brokerage firm where he worked. With that money, he funded several start-up ventures including a bridal store, a reality TV show about bounty hunters and a soul food restaurant owned and operated by the bounty hunters.

Yes, you read that correctly. While the seemingly inexhaustible supply of dross that is the reality show universe could be blamed for Marcum believing that Americans, especially from a number of the states where he found investors, would watch anything, how many bounty hunter reality shows can one country have? I mean even professional wrestling reached a point of supersaturation and led to the success of the UFC. You know, actual fighting.

Additionally, skip tracing and bounty hunting just doesn’t demand the same skill set as, say, making really good fried chicken, even with the fall from grace of Paula Deen. I just can’t see the appeal of Dog the Bounty Hunter in an apron and a hairnet.

Ponzi scheme led to investments in start-up ventures

Marcum used nearly $1.4 million of investors’ money to make payments directly to the start-up ventures and other companies, according to the SEC filing. He also used more than $500,000 to pay credit card bills that included personal expenses like airline tickets, car payments, hotel stays, sports tickets and tabs at a Hollywood nightclub.

When one investor got nervous, Marcum provided false financial records showing he had a net worth of $275 million. In reality, investigators said Marcum makes me look like a rich man.

Ponzi scheme to suicide

As bubbles tend to burst, so do Ponzi schemes run out of money. That’s when the begging and pleading began ultimately culminating in a promise to kill himself.

Marcum grew so desperate, according to the SEC filing, that he offered to make the investors beneficiaries in a life insurance policy that would include a “suicide clause.” If he couldn’t get their money back, he said, he’d kill himself to guarantee that they’d eventually be repaid.