AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Did a Ponzi scheme flourish under Georgia regulators' noses?

Betting on death helped Jim Torchia build his fortune. He bought life insurance policies from the sick and elderly at a discount, then cashed in when they died.

The niche industry brought in millions of dollars. There were private charter jets, gambling trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, stretch limousines, fast cars and motorcycles and his own bar, according to court records in an array of cases.

Now federal authorities want to tear his empire down, saying the Woodstock businessman’s network of investment companies, subprime auto loan businesses and limited liability companies amount to an elaborate Ponzi scheme.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says Torchia lured in elderly and unsophisticated investors with ads aired on Rush Limbaugh's radio show, then raided their money as if it were his own personal piggy bank.

The specter of hundreds of people losing their savings across a swath of Southern states raises questions about whether Georgia regulators, who tangled with Torchia for years, did all they could to enforce securities laws.

Torchia maintains the SEC doesn't understand the value of his businesses, and none of his investors are at risk of losing.

“I will take (this) company to $1 billion,” he said in December, in an email to one of his former salesman who he is suing . “Trust me. I have never done anything dishonest in my life. So the SEC can go (expletive) themselves.”

You can read the AJC's in-depth investigative story about Torchia here, or pick up Sunday's newspaper.




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About the Author

Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper since 2010.