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Scams

An Oil-Well Scam Drained Our Savings

Peggy and Sam Niblett were victims of a Ponzi scheme that cost hundreds of investors more than $65 million. -- As told to Jessica Anderson


The Nibletts mortgaged and paid off their potato farm three times, then lost the sale proceeds to a criminal.

Why did you get involved in the deal? Around the time we were getting ready to sell our farm, we got a phone call pitching a company that invested in developing oil and gas wells. The projects promised monthly returns, which we thought would help with our medical expenses. Peggy had been diagnosed with leukemia a few years earlier.

How did the company persuade you it was legitimate? They gave us a list of other people who were taking part. We called them, and they all said it was wonderful. And the company appeared very professional in its presentations.

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How much money did you invest? Being conservative New Englanders, we got in slowly. Our first investment was $15,000, in a small project in 1997. We continued to invest in larger and larger projects over the next seven years. All told, we invested $593,000 and lost more than $332,000.

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When did you realize something was wrong? We were in Texas awaiting a stem-cell transplant for Peggy in 2005 when a check the company sent us bounced. The company, which was headed by a man named Ulric Sweesy, sent us a good check when we called them; but the next check bounced as well, and no more checks ever arrived.

Have you seen any justice? We were finally connected to the Texas State Securities Board and helped them build a case against Sweesy. He was eventually arrested in Las Vegas and sentenced in 2008 to 20 years in prison for committing fraud. He was a thief, pure and simple. Besides the emotional toll it took on us, we felt guilty because Sam got his mother and cousin to invest. They lost nearly $200,000.

Could you have done anything differently? We thought we were betting on gas and oil prices, which we were convinced would climb. What we were really betting on was this man's character. We tried to prepare. We did the best we could.

How are you doing financially? We're very grateful to have terrific insurance, which covers Peggy's cancer treatments. So we've been able to keep our heads above water.