Mystery surrounds the disappearance of Louis Schooler, a financial planner who allegedly fleeced clients out of $50 million. In July 2016, Schooler embarked on a 3500-mile journey on his Hylas 42 sailing boat, the Entertainer, to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.
Schooler next headed to Tahiti, where he mysteriously vanished. While the Entertainer was recovered, Schooler went missing. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, one of Schooler’s lawyers said that he was dead. However, as local authorities did not issue a death certificate, the US State Department officially considers Schooler to be missing.
This summer, Schooler was due to appear in front of an SEC administrative law judge over allegations that he and his firm, the now defunct Western Financial Planning Corporation, had perpetrated a real estate investment scam. The scam is alleged to have raised approximately $50 million from investors nationwide.
In September 2012, the SEC filed a complaint against Schooler and Western. “Schooler buys raw, undeveloped land in the southwest United States, then sells the land at grossly inflated prices to general partnerships composed of numerous unsophisticated investors,” charged the commission. Moreover, Schooler and Western “do not disclose this enormous markup and mislead the investors about the true value of the underlying property.”
To illustrate, the SEC alleged that Western bought a piece of land in Nevada for $1.85 million in 2010. It then sold the land to the partnerships at prices valuing the land at $9.3 million, giving it a 500% markup.
Western then showed investors real estate comps for similar properties, though in reality, the comps were not comparable to the properties being offered. Just as significantly, Western did not inform investors that many of the properties were encumbered with mortgage debt used to purchase the land.
On January 21, 2016, a district court ruled in favor of the SEC, ordering Schooler to pay disgorgement, interest, and a civil penalty totaling about $148 million. Later on, the SEC began proceedings to bar Schooler from the industry.
Since this ruling, there have been subsequent hearings. Some loose ends of the case were still hanging when Schooler embarked on his ill-fated trip to Marquesas Islands.