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9/11 firefighter sculpture caught in alleged fraud scheme


AP Photo/Fred Hayes, File
Sculptor Stan Watts stands in front of his bronze sculptures.

By David Dishneau
The Associated Press

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A towering sculpture in the Maryland mountains depicting three New York City firefighters raising the U.S. flag at ground zero was financed by investor fraud, federal regulators say.

Now the 40-foot bronze statue unveiled in November 2007 at the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md., is for sale. A court-appointed receiver and the sculptor, Stanley J. Watts of Kearns, Utah, say they hope to raise at least $425,000 to repay investors in Coadum Advisors Inc. — and perhaps have something left over for the artist.

“I am still upside-down $150,000 on the project,” Watts said in a telephone interview, referring to what he owes his creditors.

In a complaint filed in January 2008 in federal court in Atlanta, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged Coadum raised $30 million by promising investors returns as high as 6 percent per month. The SEC contends it was a Ponzi scheme that illegally used money from new investors to pay off earlier investors.

In a settlement about three weeks later, Coadum agreed to cease operations, pay a yet-to-be-determined fine and allow the court to retrieve as much investor money as possible.

Coadum, controlled by James A. Jeffery, of Belleville, Ontario, Canada, and Thomas A. Repke, of Hollady, Utah, had U.S. offices in Alpharetta, Ga., and Salt Lake City.

The receiver, attorney Pat Huddleston II of Marietta, Ga., said he has recovered $4.1 million from domestic bank accounts and other domestic investments.

Huddleston said he still is trying to recover $18.8 million that Coadum transferred to overseas accounts.

He said Coadum spent the rest of the money on operating costs and domestic investments including Idaho real estate, a plastic-bottle manufacturing company and the statue, titled “To Lift a Nation.”

According to court records, Coadum contracted in April 2007 with Watts to create the monument and donate it to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, based at the federal training center in Emmitsburg, about 70 miles north of Washington.

“According to Repke, Coadum hoped to reap a tax deduction from the donation of the monument to offset the enormous profits he expected the Coadum companies’ investments to produce,” Huddleston wrote in a report to the court.

Coadum paid Watts $300,000 and incurred another $30,000 in expenses to promote the monument, Huddleston said.

Watts said he and an associate, Kim Korpany, each pocketed $10,000 for the piece, which he valued in 2006 at $4.8 million. Watts said he gave a total of $75,000 to two Sept. 11 charities, and the rest went for foundry costs and other project expenses.

Watts said Coadum was to have paid him more — he wouldn’t say how much — after it got the tax deduction. The SEC shut down the company before it could claim the deduction.

Huddleson said the receiver’s asking price of $425,000 would ensure a reasonable return for duped investors. If Watts finds a buyer willing to pay more, he can keep half the difference, Huddleston said.

Regardless of whether it is sold, the statue must stay in Emmitsburg under Watts’ deal with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

Watts said he got permission from the three firefighters to reproduce their likenesses and started working on the statue long before securing financing.

Before the terrorist attacks, “New York was like another country to me,” Watts said. “But when they raised the flag there, everybody that saw that picture, their heart went zoom.”

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