Runnels County resident recalls and warns area citizens about gold investment scam

  BALLINGER– When Paula realized it was all a scam, it was too late, a lifetime of savings and dreams, the family property and vehicles, everything was gone. She was left with empty hands, financially devastated and with a growing debt.

Paula, a senior citizen and lifetime resident of Runnels County recalls how everything started, six years ago. She started buying rare gold coins. Living in the family ranch, in the outskirts of Ballinger, she and her husband had nothing to worry about. The property was paid-off, no kids to take care of, so she decided to invest in their future. She knew that coin collectors sometimes see big returns on their investments.

She was also told that the value of these coins tend to rise during periods of high inflation and recession. Paula started buying relatively cheap coins and paying about $500 out of their own money. However she was lured to get into credit card debt, and before she knew it the bill had grown well over $100,000.

“I started buying just one coin at a time, I was trying to make an investment for our future,” Paula recalls.

Just like many amateur collectors she fell for the story that her investment would double or triple in a short time. It didn’t. And when she decided it was time to sell to get her money back she contacted the same coin dealer.

“I called and they told me that if I wanted to make money with my coins I had to wait for about 10 years or more. Finally, the representative said they would buy the coins back but the commission was going to be 30 percent,” says Paula.

A few days later, a man impersonating William (Billy) O’Connor, who was later identified as Justin Allen O’Neal, came to Paula’s home. She had been dealing with O’Connor for a few years over the phone but never met him in person.

Paula believes that it was O’Connor, a legitimate employee with a coin dealer in Beaumont, Texas, the one who sold her information to O’Neal.

“He (O’Neal) came to my house and said that he was O’Connor, he said that he didn’t feel it was right for his company to charge me with the 30 percent to buy my coins back,” Paula explains.

After gaining her confidence, O’Neal told Paula that he would pay her credit card debt in order to buy the coins back. Paula trusted the man she thought she had been dealing with for years.

A few days later O’Neal came back and showed her the bogus copy of a check. O’Neal told her that it was the check used to pay her credit card debt. A few days later, Paula received her credit card statements and realized that everything had been a scam.

Paula called the Runnels County Sheriff’s Department and an investigation was started. They soon realized that O’Neal was part of a multi-state gold scam that spanned from Beaumont, Texas to Minnesota, Illinois, Nevada, California and more.

Justin Allen O’Neal, 36, was arrested in September of 2011 along with Ryan Lambeth, 30; William O’Conner, 36; and Thomas Eckert, 54. O’Neal is still at the Hardin County Jail facing charges for a different felony.

Despite the efforts of the Sheriff’s Department and the FBI, only three coins were recovered. The total amount of the loss is well over $100,000.

The coins were sold to a company in Bloomington, Minnesota, which had already resold most of them. These gold coins changed hands quickly from dealer to investor or to another dealer, making them almost impossible to find.

“Now we had to move, put our property on the market and start paying rent,” Paula says.

Besides the family economy the scam also had a serious impact on her and her husband’s health. Living a stressful situation like that drove her to a health crisis. Paula is now connected to an oxygen tank and they both have to have round the clock home care if they want to stay at home.

“My advice now is to be aware, not to trust anyone and keep records of every transaction that you make, there is too much at stake and I learned the lesson the hard way,” she says.

The name of the victim has been changed to protect her identity.