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Investments were real; firms weren't

A former financial planner for Argus Securities in New Port Richey was charged Tuesday with swindling six elderly clients out of $90,000 by having them invest in what she touted as lucrative businesses.

Police say that the companies didn't exist and that the money went into the broker's own checking account.

Patricia A. Lewis of 10th Street E in Tierra Verde, a beach community southwest of St. Petersburg, told six clients between November 1991 and February 1993 that she had invested their money in one of three businesses, said Detective George Pleasant of the New Port Richey Police Department.

But in February, when another interested investor asked Argus for a prospectus from one of the companies, Argus officials couldn't find that any of the three businesses existed, Pleasant said. Lewis already had stopped working at Argus when people began inquiring about the investments, he said

"They were told they'd be investing in this company, and there was no such company," Pleasant said, adding that the clients were not told many details about their investments. "They just pretty much trusted the judgment of the broker to make the investment."

The six victims invested between $10,000 and $50,000 each in Lewis' schemes, Pleasant said. None were wiped out financially.

The victims could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. When the incidents occurred, five lived in Pasco and one lived in Pinellas. One has since moved out of state.

Pleasant said Lewis admitted in a tape-recorded interview during her arrest Tuesday that she had defrauded the six clients.

Argus' management did not know about Lewis' dealings, he said.

Argus president Bert Beckoff would not confirm that Lewis had worked for the company, which is at 7240 U.S. 19. He would only say he had no comment on her arrest.

Lt. Darryl Garman of the New Port Richey police said Lewis worked at Argus as a financial planner from July 1985 to February 1993.

Lewis, 42, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Her phone number in Tierra Verde is unpublished. She was released from West Pasco Detention Center Tuesday afternoon on her own recognizance after being charged with running a scheme to defraud others.

Another financial planner who worked at Argus Securities in 1988 admitted to stealing $160,000 from customers. Argus' insurance company reimbursed some of the clients for their losses.