LOS ANGELES – The plaintiff who claims MetLife and one of its subsidiaries endorsed what turned out to be a fraudulent real estate investment fund choked up as she described the embarrassment she felt when the fund was uncovered as a Ponzi scheme in 2009.
Christine Ramirez, 75, said she felt depressed, angry and too ashamed to tell her four children.
“I was the parent and I invested everything I had in this company and now there was nothing left for them,” she said.
During her testimony July 27 and 28, Ramirez walked through the events of the spring of 2008, when she first heard about an investment fund called Diversified Lending Group. She sat with Paul Walker – her boyfriend at the time – at his dining room table, listening to an insurance agent describe a premium financing option he could use to purchase MetLife insurance products. DLG guaranteed a 12 percent return on investment, which could be used to pay insurance premiums and provide enough of a monthly income to live on.
The agent, Scott Brandt, who worked for DLG, introduced himself as an employee of MetLife, Ramirez said. As a native New Yorker, Ramirez knew and trusted the insurance giant. She testified that its association with the investment fund lended credibility and made her feel secure in handing over the contents of her retirement account, personal savings and cash from a line of credit she took out on her home. In total, she invested nearly $280,000.
After she lost her investment, she said she had to rent a room in her house to make ends meet. She also had to give up the travel plans she dreamed about for her retirement.
Her belief that MetLife had approved the DLG plan was affirmed when she went with Walker to the offices of the MetLife subsidiary to hand over a check and finalize paperwork for the investment, she testified.
“I felt very comfortable knowing MetLife was on the directory,” she said.
But attorneys for the defendants highlighted that despite what Ramirez assumed about MetLife’s role, she never dealt with the company directly. She never purchased insurance – in fact, she never wanted insurance. Rather, she only ever took interest in the investment opportunity, which was exclusive to DLG.
An attorney for Tony Russon, the managing partner at the MetLife subsidiary in California who is also named in the lawsuit, confirmed that Ramirez never met, talked to or exchanged messages with Russon. Ramirez confirmed that she never relied on specific statements Russon made when she decided to invest in DLG. She also confirmed that she understood the contract she signed was with DLG – not MetLife or Russon’s financial group.
Attorneys made use of statements Ramirez made in her deposition ahead of the trial, in which she says she should have asked more questions about the fund at the time.
Sidney Kanazawa, an attorney representing MetLife, also pointed out the plaintiff’s confusion over what offices she visited and what role Brandt had in the companies involved. Brandt had surrendered his securities license three years before he met Ramirez so he could promote DLG. His work for the fund was considered to be outside his role as an insurance agent with MetLife’s subsidiary.
“I was probably pretty gullible,” she said in a video recording from earlier this year. “It sounded good. … I probably should have just left my money where it was.”
The case is being heard in Los Angeles County Superior Court and began July 20. Webcast coverage is being provided by Courtroom View Network.