No Parachute: Aurora Wife of Convicted Ponzi Schemer Shares Her Story, Part I
Editor’s note: Almost two years ago, Denver was caught up in a scandal when it was revealed Shawn Merriman was involved in a $20 million Ponzi scheme. There were many victims but no one was more blindsided by his betrayal than his own wife and four children. In our three-part series, Shawn’s now-ex-wife Andrea shares how she learned the horrible truth, the day the Feds came to confiscate everything and where she is today.
March 18, 2009 I dropped my three-year-old off at preschool. I had a plan for the 2-3 hours he was going to be gone. And then my spouse called me on my cell phone. ”What are you doing this morning?” he asked.
I told him my plan and he told me he had hoped to spend time with me. I invited him to join me doing what I had planned. He told me he didn’t have that much time. I asked him how much time he needed, he told me (it was the same amount of time it would have taken to do my activity, and when I pointed that out he told me he wasn’t going to do that activity with me.) So like the flexible, kind wife that supported all of his dreams that I’d always tried to be, I turned the car around and headed home to spend time with him. I had no idea I was turning around so he could destroy all of my dreams.
Before I reached home, he called my cell phone again and asked me to meet him in the motor home. He loved that thing. (I hated it, had never wanted it, but had supported him in that dream as well.) Looking back, it was probably a bit odd for him to request I meet him there. But then again, I had no idea what was about to go down.
I walked in and he was talking on the phone to someone. (Not unusual. He had spent his days and nights calling clients and putting business deals together our entire marriage.) I sat at the table, waited for him to finish his phone call, and happened to glance to the left where I saw a yellow legal pad with names written on it: Market Street Advisors, C.G.Boerner, Majestic Mountain Construction and Impressions Everlasting. The only thing I knew about anything on that list was that they were my spouse’s business ventures. I didn’t have anything to do with them. I figured he’d been doodling or making one of the endless lists he was famous for writing down on yellow legal pads. I was wrong.
He hung up the phone, sat across the table from me, folded his hands together on the tabletop and paused. I looked at the legal pad, slid it across the table to him, and asked, “What’s this?”
He replied, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” In a voice as calm and unemotional as I’d ever witnessed. Nothing about his performance tipped me off as to what was about to happen.
Turns out, that yellow legal pad was a list, but only the beginning, of the lies I didn’t know he had been telling me and everyone else…for over 16 years.
It’s still not quite real. The fall out is, of course. But everything else STILL doesn’t seem real. And without warning, I found out everything I thought was real, actually wasn’t.
“My company, Market Street Advisors, is a sham.”
One simple sentence, and the complicated web of choices, actions and decisions of ONE person, the man I’d known since 1988 but apparently hadn’t known at all, shattered my world.
March 18, 2009.
But I didn’t get it. Yet.
I know it showed in my face. I didn’t have a clue what he was telling me. My first thought (always a party or holiday thought at that stage of my life!) was, “Is this an early April Fool’s joke? Doesn’t he remember yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day? Boy, does he have his dates wrong! What kind of joke is he trying to play?” All I could do was look at him with a puzzled expression on my face.
Suddenly, in spite of my education and my knowledge of English and vocabulary, I didn’t understand the word “sham.”
He explained, “My company isn’t real. It’s a sham, and has been from the very beginning. I’ve been running a ponzi scheme for the past 16 years.”
I didn’t know what a ponzi scheme was.
I’d heard mention of a ponzi scheme on the news, I’d heard the name Bernie Madoff, I knew he had done something illegal, I knew a lot of people were mad at him and what he had done, but I didn’t understand what it was he, or my spouse, had done.
I got the condensed version. What I was told left me in complete and utter shock. But it didn’t stop there.
My spouse told me he had hired an attorney and had already turned himself in to the government authorities and to our church leaders. He told me he would be going to prison and getting excommunicated from our church. He also told me everything had been seized (I didn’t know what that meant but was too shocked to ask–he was still talking.) He told me I would be left alone to raise our children. And he told me I needed to hire an attorney right away but he’d maxed out all of our credit cards paying for his.
I was shocked. I was stunned. I was confused. I was scared. I was devastated. And at the same time, I didn’t know what I thought or felt.
All I knew was that I had been thrown out of an airplane…without a parachute.
Then my mind kicked in and my questions began.
“How can this be? What am I going to do? No job? No money? You’re going to PRISON? How will I raise our kids? How will I keep them alive? How am I going to pay for our food and utility bills? How will I pay our car insurance? What am I going to do?” (That fear I’d always had of being responsible to keep someone else alive, the responsibility of providing for someone else, returned. I was terrified for the physical survival of my children.)
He told me I still didn’t get it. There were no cars to drive anymore. There wasn’t a house to live in. And the man I’d turned to for almost 20 years, to solve problems and answer questions, didn’t have any answers anymore.
I knew I was headed, with my four kids, to live in a cardboard box on the street. Literally.
I was too stunned to understand a lot, in that moment, but suddenly I had a thought come to mind.
“Is that all?”
Nope. There was more. He said He was sorry, then started SOBBING like I’d never seen Him cry before. And that was when it hit me. This was not a joke. This was real.
The evening of March 18, 2009, I gathered my family together for the last time, as a united family, and let my children hear, from the mouth of the destroyer, the destruction he, the head of our family and home, had brought upon all of us.
I remembered how he sat alone in a chair, across the room from the rest of us, and told our children what he had done and what he anticipated the consequences would be. They were as shocked as I had been when I’d been told earlier that day. It took a moment or two for them to comprehend what he was saying and they looked to me, with shock and horror on their faces, questioning with their eyes what they had just heard. They looked to me for confirmation.
How do you shatter your children’s lives? How do you destroy their hopes and dreams? How do you ruin their world? How do you do ANY of that?
How do you answer even a question about that? All I could do was sit there, with tears streaming down my face, my heart more shattered and broken than I knew a heart could be and still keep beating. And I guess that was answer enough.
One of the children got up, crossed the room, and hugged their dad as they cried. The other children spontaneously joined them and they all huddled, hugged and cried together. We used to end our family prayers each day with a “group hug.” But like everything else, those days were over.
I sat alone on the couch and watched the whole thing.
Then the destroyer got up, walked out the door, and left our family alone.
I was alone with my children.
Be sure to tune in tomorrow to read Andrea’s description of the dreaded day when the authorities came to confiscate their possessions.