Social Security Privatization? What Will These People Retire ON?

American Title workers say retirement funds went missing

By David Migoya
The Denver Post

Posted:   03/30/2014 12:01:00 AM MDT

     Dozens of employees of bankrupt American Title Services — whose CEO committed suicide with a nail gun last month — say they are just now discovering that their company-run retirement accounts have been mostly drained.
     Some employees allege that money deducted from their paychecks for retirement savings was never deposited. Others said funds were withdrawn from their accounts without their permission or knowledge.
     Several have filed claims for the missing 401(k) fund in American Title’s bankruptcy.
     One employee said she transferred about $45,000 into an American Title retirement fund from an account with a previous employer, then had contributions deducted regularly from her paycheck over the next five years, only to find that it’s nearly all gone, according to court records and interviews.
     Another employee recently learned that three years of 401(k) contributions she made at American Title were liquidated in 2011, and that thousands of dollars were siphoned from her account literally overnight two years later without her knowledge or consent, court records show.
     “I just now find out that my account doesn’t even exist,” said Jacqueline Bartlett, a title examiner who started at American Title about a year ago and filed a bankruptcy claim. She said about $3,000 was deducted from her paychecks for her retirement, but when she contacted the plan administrator, she was told no account could be found.
     “I never got any statements, but I thought it was an oversight,” she said.
     The employees said their accounts were handled by an Internet-based company called A spokesperson for the company refused to comment.
     The allegations are the latest development in the unraveling tale of American Title CEO Richard Talley. Employees and industry watchers say on the surface the company appeared successful and growing, but its finances turned out to be in shambles.
     The missing employee retirement funds are not among lawsuit allegations from Title Resource Guaranty Corp. of Texas, which says American Title’s books were doctored to cover up a $2 million shortfall, all of it from escrow accounts set up to cover real estate expenses American Title handled at closing.
     American Title wrote real estate title insurance policies for Title Resource, which underwrote and guaranteed them.
     Talley, 56, killed himself in the garage of his Aurora home on Feb. 4, the day he was to meet with Title Resource officials over the escrow account discrepancies.
     Employees say he had attended a meeting that morning to discuss a new venture, to be called American Land Title.
     Talley’s widow, Cheryl Talley, American Title’s co-founder, has not been reachable, although she has denied in court records any knowledge of the company’s financial troubles.
     It’s unclear what the missing Title Resource escrow funds were spent on, or who was responsible for their misuse. After Talley’s death, the Colorado attorney general launched a grand jury investigation, and the state Division of Insurance began a civil inquiry into the company.
     But none of those investigations involve the employees’ missing savings, an issue which is just emerging in the bankruptcy claims they filed.
     Although only a handful of claims have been filed, employees said dozens are affected.
     The missing money included a company match to employee contributions as well as profit sharing, records show.
     Some employees said they took their allegations to the U.S. Department of Labor last year. The department appears to be investigating, according to e-mails and paperwork employees shared with The Denver Post.
     The department investigator identified in the communications would not comment, and a department spokesman similarly refused comment.
     The only indication of the inquiry appears in American Title bankruptcy filings that identify the company’s largest unsecured creditors. The Labor Department claim, “ERISA Plan Liability,” is for an undetermined amount.
     ERISA is the Employment Retirement Income Security Act, which sets conduct standards for those who manage employee benefit plans and their assets.
     Some employees said Richard Talley refused to give them access to their accounts and denied them passwords when they asked for them.
     “I asked for it on several occasions and was just pushed aside,” said Elizabeth Frederick, who worked as a closer at American Title for nearly six years. “We were not allowed access.”
     When Frederick finally got access last week, she learned much of the money she had invested was gone. She said there were others like her, but most were too worried about their jobs to make a fuss.
     “I could never get a password,” said a long-time employee who has not yet filed a claim and asked her name not be used because she is seeking new employment. She said she was laid off from American Title in 2011.
     “I put in about $100 a month for seven years, and my paychecks showed the company match,” the woman said. “When I left the company, it showed a balance of $1,200.”

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