State investigating after WWII hero risks thousands in sketchy investment

by: Jim Strickland Updated:

State regulators are digging through the records of a Marietta insurance agent after Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland uncovered the case of a local World War II hero at risk of losing nearly $200,000 in a suspicious investment.

The insurance commissioner wants to know if the insurance agent dealt with other couples the way he dealt with Lloyd and Ruby Pittman.

Turning 90 next month, Lloyd needs a walker after three recent surgeries. Ruby needs her husband since she's virtually blind. They said insurance agent Jody Rhodes knew their circumstances well.

"Looking back on the thing, I think he took us for a ride," said Lloyd Pittman of Rhodes.

The Pittmans said they were satisfied with several investments Rhodes sold them, until they received a huge payment from finalizing the sale of their local business.

The payment was $197,000.

"That was our last little lump," said Ruby Pittman.

Rhodes himself drove Lloyd Pittman to deposit the check the day it arrived.

"We wrote another check back to Ohio National for the same amount: $197,000," he said.

Records show Rhodes sold the Pittmans an annuity contract through Ohio National Insurance Company. It would immediately pay back 1 percent of their money each month for as long as they lived.

Once they died, however, the insurance company would keep any money left over. The money became illiquid once invested.

"It's under the control of Ohio National. This was not explained to me at all," said Lloyd Pittman.

Strickland showed the deal to David Sawyer, an accountant and the four-time president of the Georgia chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

"It would have taken (Lloyd Pittman) about eight and a half years just to return the principle. He would have been 97 years old," said Sawyer.

Sawyer concluded a money market or CD investment would have been far more appropriate, given the likelihood the Pittmans would not live to near age 100. Such an investment would have been more liquid and would have left the money in the surviving Pittmans' estate, rather than with an insurance company.

Ohio National said Lloyd Pittman could initial a form, declining the offer.

The Pittmans said when they called Rhodes with questions, it was during a 20-day window when they were allowed to cancel.

They said Rhodes claimed to be going out of town and unavailable. Strickland found Rhodes working at his home.

"Did you do anything wrong?" asked Strickland.

"No, I didn't do anything wrong," Rhodes said.

"Why would you sell that investment to someone about to turn 90?" asked Strickland.

"If you'd please leave, I'd appreciate it," asked Rhodes.

Strickland later asked if Rhodes received the industry standard 3 percent commission on such a contract.

"I'm not going to discuss what commission I got on products," said Rhodes.

A standard 3 percent commission equates to nearly $6,000 for the Pittmans' contract. It would be the year 2021 before the Pittman saw that much return on their initial principle.

"It just didn't pass the smell test," said Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.

After Strickland's phone call, Hudgens summoned Rhodes and Ohio National to a meeting at the Pittmans' home, which lasted more than an hour.

"Can you tell me what went on in there, sir?" Strickland inquired of Ohio National Vice President Robert Conway.

"I will not," Conway said.

"Did Ohio National do anything wrong ?" asked Strickland.

"I have nothing to say," Conway said.

The company refunded the balance of the Pittmans' account in days. The check was for more than $183,000.

"You've helped us get our money back and that's the bottom line and we're greatly appreciative," Pittman told Strickland.

As of now, both Ohio National and Jody Rhodes are in good standing with the state.

Strickland found records showing Rhodes has several continuing education credits in ethics.

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