BURLINGTON -- Eleanor Cline doesn't want anybody else to make the same costly mistake she made.
Cline, 78, heard of an company in Kenosha that was offering 15 percent returns on investments.
"I was only making 2.9 percent, so I thought, 'If I can make 15 percent, why don't I do that?' That was a big mistake," said Cline, who lives in the Town of Burlington.
Her brother, Jerome Welker of Pleasant Prairie, told Cline about Homestead Enterprises, owned by Kenneth Hackbarth, in Kenosha. After consulting with Jeff Kaeppeler, a Homestead agent, Cline initially invested $10,000 in the summer of 2001. Later in the year she would add $40,000. She later learned from the FBI that the money was never recorded as received by the company.
Cline said her blood is still boiling.
She filed a lawsuit on Oct. 2 -- asking for double the amount she invested plus punitive damages -- in Kenosha Circuit Court against Kenneth Hackbarth, Kaeppeler and Mark Hackbarth, son of the company owner, and Hackbarth Enterprises, 6929 75th St., Kenosha. The Kenosha phone book lists the business of Homestead Investment Co. at that same address.
Before the suit was filed, Kenneth Hackbarth already had agreed to plead guilty to charges of devising a scam that bilked at least 117 people out of more than $5 million. He reportedly faces a restitution order, $750,000 in fines, and forfeiture of all assets under the agreement.
The FBI said all but about $73 of the estimated $5 million invested has been accounted for, and that it's unlikely it can be recovered. The government is trying to seize assets that would include just over $4,200 from one of Kenneth Hackbarth's bank accounts, some stock, and his home, all of which apparently would be placed in a restitution fund.
Still, while being upset, Cline is able to laugh and enjoy life.
"I'm not going to have a nervous breakdown over this," she said. "I thought if they can spend my money, then I'm going to get three diamonds put in my ring. That'll mean something to me."
A mother of six children, two of whom have passed away, Cline said her son Dan wondered why she didn't ask for advice before entrusting so much money to strangers.
"I have always handled my own business just as my children do, and we're all doing very well," she said. "But I regret not contacting my children on this matter and now I want the world to know, because I trusted these people."
She's also not about to bury her head in the sand and hide in embarrassment.
"You can quote me all you want," she said, "I just want my money back."
After doing several follow-up calls on her investment, Cline received a "dividend" check of $4,000. That was only six months after making her initial investment.
"I was so happy," she said. "But I had been bugging them quite a bit and that's why I think I got the check."
Cline believes her $4,000 check, which cleared, was money turned over to her after being "invested" by another innocent victim.
"Yes, it was just a (pyramid) scam," she said, "and the FBI already was checking them out."
A son-in-law, even after checking out the "interest" payment, recommended she try to get all of her money back from the company. That, of course, hasn't happened.
Cline, who worked for 15 years as an appeals aide at the IRS office in Milwaukee, said she joined more than 100 other investors to discuss their plight with the FBI at a meeting Oct. 3 in Kenosha. Those at the meeting apparently had provided Homestead Company with several million dollars. Some individuals or families entrusted the company with as much as $300,000.
Much to the dismay of the investors, nobody from Homestead attended the meeting.
"How can they get out of facing up to what they did?" Cline asks.