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Trustee Will Oversee Investment Company

March 22, 2000|EDMUND SANDERS and GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A bankruptcy court judge appointed a trustee Tuesday to sort through the wreckage of an Irvine investment company accused of bilking as much as $35 million from hundreds of investors nationwide, including high-profile athletes like former Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson.

DFJ Italia, which investors learned recently was being run by two convicted felons, shut its doors Saturday amid accusations of fraud and theft.

Investors, ranging from Orange County physicians to East Coast retirees, say they were told their money would be used to buy precious metals and to profit from European currency trading. Dickerson, for instance, invested $100,000. Former Rams lineman Duval Love and his parents invested a total of $172,000.

But attorneys for some investors now believe the money was squandered by managers and that DFJ was a Ponzi scheme, in which money raised from new investors was used to pay off earlier investors.

A group of five investors, including Dickerson and Love, filed claims Monday to force the company into Chapter 7 bankruptcy. On Tuesday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John E. Ryan approved the group's emergency request to appoint a trustee to take control of the company.

Steven J. Katzman, attorney for the investor group, said he hopes the trustee will be able to seize company records and search for remaining assets, but so far none of the investor money has been located.

"There's been a lot of finger-pointing going on," Katzman said.

The FBI has interviewed former employees, a lawyer for one of the employees said. But FBI officials would not comment on whether an investigation is underway.

None of DFJ's officers appeared at Tuesday's hearing.

Investors say they were shocked to learn recently that two of DFJ's leaders, Luigi DiFonzo and Angelo Ales, are convicted felons. Court records show both men served time in prison for fraud and other crimes.

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