JACKSONVILLE, Fla.-- Less than eight months ago, Lydia Cladek, dubbed our area's own Bernie Madoff, was sentenced to 30 years for defrauding at least $50 million worth of investors' money in a Ponzi scheme. Celeste Brandon was one of her victims.
"It affected our whole family, not just me," she said.
Brandon lost more than $30,000 in the scheme.
"That was my savings that I had, that was my money to buy a house, my emergency fund should anything happen," said Brandon. "That was everything to me!"
Experts at the U.S. Attorney's Office told Action News at the Northeast Florida Fraud Summit, she's not alone. The sunshine state is getting a bad reputation.
"It's been very serious in Jacksonville," said assistant U.S. attorney Mac Heavener. "We're seeing a lot of Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes investor fraud."
Action News has learned in 2011 and 2012, prosecutors with the Financial Fraud Task Force in Florida handled more than 500 cases involving more than 100,000 victims.
Brandon's best advice; follow the dollars.
"Never put your money somewhere and just leave it," she said. "Always check back."
Brandon says she's recovering every day and in the process she hopes her story serves as a warning to others in Jacksonville.