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Retired and investing with friends or family? Think hard, and then think again

Erin Arvedlund, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Thinking of investing with friends or family? Take a huge step back -- and consider the story of Ron Smith and his daughter Lynn Byrne of Doylestown, Pa.

Smith and Byrne invested and lost roughly $230,000 in a physical therapist's startup small business -- and got no help from regulators.

Smith, 82, and his daughter, 53, in 2013 invested in a company called R.I.M. Medical, founded by Linda T. Miller and partner Keith DeStefano. Smith was one of several Philadelphia-area investors who put $1 million into Miller's lymphedema "compression" medical device. Smith's daughter Lynn was a breast-cancer patient of Miller's under treatment for cancer-related lymphedema by Miller at a physical-therapy practice.

"I wanted to help her because the compression had been so helpful in my cancer treatment," Byrne said. "I would do anything for my daughter."

Miller made the business look better than it was and blamed the manufacturer, which ran over budget, Smith alleges. When the company went under, Smith and his daughter and several other investors, lost all their money.

Investments gone bad often read like a financial "he said, she said." Miller says it was a "misunderstanding" and not a crime or theft from a retiree and a cancer survivor.

 

"This wasn't elder abuse, as Ron Smith calls it," Miller says. "He's come after me in all different manner, and I almost lost my house. Everyone lost money, including me and my partner." They co-signed a $500,000 loan from the Small Business Administration. Currently the loan is in default. DeStefano declined to comment.

Investing in friends' startup businesses is risky -- and generally isn't suitable for an older person who doesn't have a lifetime left to make up for a sizable loss.

Byrne wells up in tears discussing the loss; she invested $80,000, her father invested $150,000.

"I feel terrible that I got my father involved," Byrne said.

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