A Las Vegas land development firm has quietly offered to repay thousands of dollars to several hundred German nationals who say they were victims of a complex land and securities swindle.
But the offer - half now and the remainder of the investment over 15 years - was made through an intermediary, who says he told officials of Preffered Equities Corp. of Las Vegas that they would have to return all of the money.
Federal authorities say they cannot intervene because the statute of limitations on the land sales is up, leaving in doubt what legal sanctions will be available to the Germans should they not reach an agreement with Preffered Equities.
Meanwhile, Leonard Rosen, the man who engineered the alleged swindle dating back to 1970, has plead nolo contendre to apparently unrelated tax fraud charges and agreed to cooperate with a federal investigation into the use of offshore banks by wealthy Americans seeking to evade payment of taxes.
Nevada authorities said Rosen has not cooperated with them.
According to reports from several German citizens, Rosen sold many of them shares in an investment fund called ParFund in Munich in 1970. But after the German government later refused to sanction future sales of Parfund in that country, Rosen was faced with hundreds of angry investors who wanted their money back.
Instead of money, Rosen convinced hundreds of the investors to take land in the Nevada desert - described as being "the open door to uncluttered wilderness parks, unbelievable natural beauty." He offered $11 worth of land for every $10 of investment in Parfund.
The Germans found themselves paying large taxes on land with little or no immediate resale value in a development some 60 miles outside of Las Vegas called Calvada.
Last year, more than 100 of the investors lost their land because of refusal or failure to pay the taxes on the land. It was auctioned off by the state and sold back to Preferred Equities for about one-eighth of the original price. Many of the Germans were retired and with little income, who hadn't realized there would by any, or any significant, tax bite on their land.
Meanwhile Rosen, who according to investigators created both parfund and Preferred Equities, was convicted on a tax fraud case in which he was accused of failure to pay taxes on the sale of $5.5 million in land sales. He was sentenced to three years probation and fined $5,000. He was also ordered to cooperate with the federal probe, called "Project Haven."
State Land Division attorney Jim Barnes finally located Rosen two weeks ago, at Ceasar's Palace hotel in Las Vegas. He asked the elusive Rosen where the Germans' money was.
"He laughed," said Barnes, "and said 'I put that money in pocket and you can watch me spend it a Ceasar's Palace,' pointing to the gambling tables."
Barnes said he had already spoken to Preferred Equities president, Jack Soules, who "said he didn't know where he money was, and the only person who might was Rosen."
Heinz Pallasch, of the German Consulate in San Francisco, has been coordinating efforts to help the Germans get their investments back. He said that U.S. authorities have been helping, but it is going to be a tough fight.
However, he added, several American attorneys have discussed the possibility of filing class action suits for the Germans.
Another character in the play is the Bank of California, which has acted as co-trustee for much of the land. Although the bank, in a letter to German authorities, claims it did nothing but follow the instructions of Preferred Equities and issue deeds upon instruction.
But German authorities say that the bank, and the state of Nevada, may be the subjects of legal action aimed at getting the German victims relief.
Officials of Preferred Equities would not return phone calls from the Washington Post.