CHICAGO (CBS) — The victims of Ponzi schemes almost always lose money. Sometimes life savings and retirement funds are wiped out and families are left financially devastated.
But in this case, the toll of a Ponzi scheme left a father dead and grieving daughter fighting for justice.
Gordon Hirsch was an attorney who worked for a real estate investment firm called Equity Build. The company was run by a father and son duo — Jerome and Shaun Cohen. They bought homes and apartment buildings on the south side of Chicago, renovated them and provided investors monthly income from the rental proceeds.
In November of 2012, Gordon Hirsch killed himself.
“My dad took his own life, he left six suicide notes, five of them having to do with this Ponzi scheme, one of them to do with me, he asked that I take the case to the FBI and tell them about the Ponzi scheme,” said Hirsch’s daughter, Lindsay.
Lindsay Hirsch says her father gradually began to realize that the company he worked for was really a Ponzi scheme. He removed himself as their attorney and left detailed notes of how the enterprise worked before he killed himself.
One of the notes read: “Give this to the FBI Now.”
Lindsay believes her father ultimately killed himself because he feared he may go to prison once the scheme was exposed.
“My dad was my best friend, he was my everything, and I would go to the end of the Earth to make sure whatever he wanted to be done would be done,” said Lindsay Hirsch.
So, Lindsay brought her father’s material to the FBI, and they told her not to say anything about the scheme while they investigated it.
Two years later …
“They told me that they couldn’t pursue it, because the money was taken through people’s 401ks and cash so it was deemed untraceable.”
All the while, people continued to invest millions of dollars into the company until 2018 when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shut down Equity Build and froze its assets. The SEC charged Equity Build and Jerry and Shaun Cohen with running a Ponzi scheme.
“If the FBI and the SEC would have acted sooner, these people would still have their life savings,” Lindsay said.
The SEC says Equity Build took in $135 million from 900 investors. The weight of her father’s death and the knowledge that so many people lost so much money has taken it’s toll on Lindsay.
“I’m sorry and I feel horrible, I wish there was more I could do and I did the best that I could.”
In one of Gordon Hirsch’s suicide notes, he warned authorities to act quickly because he said the Cohens would flee.
Federal sources tell the CBS 2 Investigators that Jerome Cohen has indeed fled to Israel. It’s unclear where Shaun Cohen currently lives and he has stopped attending the SEC hearings in Chicago. A receiver is attempting to liquidate the company’s assets in an attempt to get the investors some of their money back.
“I hope that they are criminally charged for what they’ve done,” Lindsay Hirsch said. ” I mean, taking away their assets is a step in the right direction, but really they should be thrown in jail.”
Neither Jerome nor Shaun Cohen has been charged with any crimes and neither have admitted any participation in a Ponzi scheme.
Lindsay says she hopes her father would be proud of her actions to get justice for the victims of the scheme. She says she’s sure her father had no knowledge of the scheme until the very end.
“He always did the right thing, he was so empathetic,” she said. “He felt awful, I’m sure.”