ORLANDO, Fla. — A Central Florida woman invested a large chunk of her life savings with a luxury real estate executive and lost it all. The courts determined there was fraud and found she was owed $800,000 of her investment back. Fifteen years after giving him the cash, she says she’s struggling to make ends meet, while the real-estate executive lives a life of luxury.
Joan Thompson was living in a nice home in a gated Seminole County neighborhood.
“At the time, I had a couple of million,” Thompson told Channel 9′s Jeff Deal.
In 2007, Thompson was looking for a safe investment opportunity to help her and her husband through retirement.
That’s when she was introduced to Roger Soderstrom, a well-known luxury real estate executive who once owned Stirling Sotheby’s International Realty.
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Soderstrom was looking for investors in the brand-new plaza building in downtown Orlando.
Thompson told Deal that the idea was to build out the 15th floor with business suites and lease them out for a profit. She put in $800,000.
“Putting that much money in we were expecting to get a good return. Enough for our retirement,” Thompson said. As the months went by and the money didn’t come in, she became concerned. Before long, she realized her entire investment was gone.
“We thought our lives were going forward in a very positive way and he destroyed it for us,” Thompson said.
Soderstrom filed for bankruptcy. Thompson then sued as part of the bankruptcy case, and she won.
A judge found Soderstrom “told a well-placed lie to induce Thompson to give him $800,00, primarily to repay himself.”
Thompson was awarded a fraud judgment of $811,000 that couldn’t be discharged in bankruptcy.
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Soderstrom denied making false representations and appealed a handful of times, but lost.
“To this day, he still owes that money?” Deal asked.
“Yes, with interest,” attorney Scott Shuker replied.
Shuker, who specializes in bankruptcy cases, read the case filings. He says a likely problem for Thompson is that Soderstrom has since divorced and then remarried.
“I assume, now moving forward, as he accrues or gets assets, he will put those in both he and his wife’s name,” Shuker said.
Even though Soderstrom lives in a luxury condo overlooking Lake Eola in downtown Orlando and may have assets, under Florida law, if those assets are in both his name and his wife’s name, creditors can’t go after them. It’s called “tenancy by the entireties.”
“And it means that neither of you own it, the marriage owns it, and importantly, it means a creditor who’s owed money by just one of the spouses cannot touch those assets,” Shuker explained.
“You haven’t received a penny from this?” Deal asked Thompson.
“Not a penny. Not a penny. Because he’s hidden everything,” she replied.
Now struggling financially, Thompson lost her home and is living in extended-stay hotels. She says it’s a stark contrast to Soderstrom’s way of life.
“He doesn’t have any poverty. He’s in this high-rise building. He bought the condo. The man is living like a millionaire,” Thompson said.
She’s still exploring legal options, hoping somehow, she can find a way to collect the money she’s owed.
“I’ll be on the street. He’s basically made me a person who could very easily be homeless,” Thompson said.
Shuker says it’s highly unlikely she’ll ever be able to collect unless Soderstrom puts assets in his name only.
Deal reached out to Soderstrom through his attorneys by phone and email a handful of times over the past few weeks to get his response. So far, Deal has not heard back.
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