EUGENE (AP) - Police arrested the owner of a Eugene investment company suspected of running a Ponzi scheme that bilked money from mostly elderly investors.

Dennis R. Thaut, 65, the owner of First Security Financial, was charged with theft and lodged Monday at the Lane County jail. "We are hoping for a quick resolution," said Bill Warnisher, a deputy district attorney. It was unknown if Thaut had a lawyer.

Investigators determined that Thaut collected investment money from clients and used it for personal expenses and to make monthly interest payments to other clients. Police spokeswoman Jenna Labounty said detectives have identified at least 20 possible victims.

It's unclear how much money investigators believe Thaut stole from clients. Court records obtained by The Register-Guard newspaper of Eugene show that one couple estimated they had invested more than $2 million with Thaut's company.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the probe began 10 months ago, when Zelma Randles told authorities that Thaut had rejected her request to close her investment account and refund her money.

Randles gave Thaut $75,000 in 2004, thinking the money would be used in a real estate investment with a two-year term that paid an annual interest rate of 9.25 percent. When Randles requested a cash-out payment in accordance with the agreement, Thaut told Randles the funds were not available, the affidavit says.

He allegedly told Randles the money was with a mortgage company. After Randles contacted the firm, she concluded that she had been duped.

"I couldn't believe that someone who lives here and has been a member of the business community for years could victimize older people like that," said Randles, 76. "We were comfortable working with him. He had that beautiful house in town and all the trappings of a successful person."

The Register-Guard reported that a lender filed a foreclosure notice on Thaut's office building - a restored Victorian house - last month. The lender said Thaut and his wife had failed to make monthly payments of $7,000 since October.

A different mortgage company has begun the foreclosure process on Thaut's home in Marcola.

Meanwhile, two investors have sued Thaut in Lane County Circuit Court, alleging fraud, theft and breach of contract.


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