AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

How investors wagered on death in an alleged Ponzi scheme

The federal Securities and Exchange Commission is suing a Cherokee County businessman, accusing him of running a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme involving viaticals and life settlements.

If those terms have you scratching your head, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution created this animated explainer video on how individuals and companies can invest in death, the mechanics of viaticals and life settlements, and why the business has a bad reputation:

(The graphics are by Richard Watkins, animation and editing is by Ryon Horne and the narration and script are by me, Johnny Edwards.)

In the case of Woodstock businessman Jim Torchia, the SEC alleges his companies roped in elderly and naive investors using ads aired on Rush Limbaugh's radio show. The government wants the companies' assets frozen and a receiver appointed.

Torchia denies misleading investors or pilfering their funds, saying "nobody's ever not gotten paid." You can read the AJC’s in-depth investigative piece about Torchia, how he operates, and the SEC's case against him, here.

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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.