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Where Did $380 Million Go?

Mellie Whitlock, 90, lost half a milllion at Carolina Investors.
CBS
"I've been had, yes I have. I've been had," said 90-year-old investor Mellie Whitlock.

Whitlock had half a million dollars in mortgage lender, Carolina Investors.

Now, all she has is paper.

She is one of 8,000 investors, mostly senior citizens, whose savings were wiped out when the company went under last month.

"It was a building built like a bank. It looked like a bank. The people dressed like it was a bank," explained attorney John Hagins.

But it wasn't a bank, and it wasn't FDIC insured. And now, Carolina Investors and its parent company, HomeGold, are in bankruptcy and a heap of trouble. Three criminal investigations and four class action lawsuits are all trying to figure out what happened to a quarter billion dollars.

"There are rats all over the place," said Hagins. "I don't know how many rats I smell."

In his lawsuits against both companies, Hagins alleges conspiracy, negligence and gross mismanagement. And he points the finger squarely at HomeGold's former CEO, Ron Sheppard.

"My guess is someone perhaps ought to put on an orange suit and serve a little time," Hagins said ruefully.

But Ron Sheppard, says he's not to blame.

"They will realize that I am not the villain," said Sheppard.

What happened to their money?

"I can't answer for what happened to the $380 million," says Sheppard.

Though he was CEO of HomeGold for nearly three years and left just before the company went belly up, he says he had nothing to do with the its demise. Instead he is suing accountants for misreporting the company's value prior to his takeover.

"Their money was lost before Ronnie Sheppard got there," he said.

Though he says he had nothing to do with the losses, Sheppard has pledged 50 percent of the profits of his new business to pay back Carolina Investors.

When asked if the people should have faith in him, Sheppard replies, "I am the only opportunity they have to get the money back."

Mellie Whitlock doesn't think she'll see a dime of her lost money.

"It reminds me of Enron. I feel like the people of HomeGold saw that Enron just got a slap on the wrist and they said 'We'll do the same.'"

So she is cutting her losses and looking forward to things she can count on--like Monday night dances and lifelong friends.

"I have to laugh because they are the ones who stand behind me," she said.

Friends who have all learned an expensive lesson, never to bank on trust alone.



Part 1: Broken Hearts, Wallets, In S.C.