Until two years ago, Marcia Simmons thought of herself as a pretty lucky woman. She wasn't fabulously rich, but she did have what mattered to her: an adoring husband, a nice home, and comfortable sums tucked away in mutual funds, retirement accounts and savings bonds for her kids' education. She had no money worries to speak of.
A single trip to Kmart changed all that. Now the fifty-year-old journalism instructor's money worries have become truly unspeakable, a nightmare of debt, overdue taxes, liens, judgments and empty bank accounts -- cleaned out, she claims, by the man she trusted most in the world.
In recent months, Simmons has uncovered disturbing information about John Lindstedt, the husband she never really knew. She's learned a thing or two about the laxity of banks and the hurdles involved in pursuing a fraud case against your own spouse. And she's been deeply frustrated by what she considers the foot-dragging of cops and prosecutors, two beats she used to cover as a radio and television reporter.
"Working with the criminal-justice system has been a true eye-opener," she says. "It's been almost as bad as going through the crime. I feel powerless."
The education has been a costly one for Simmons, who figures she's out several hundred thousand dollars. But she still doesn't have answers to the questions that haunt her the most: where the money went, and why.
Even in clear-cut cases, spousal fraud complaints can be difficult to pursue. Prosecutors say there have been "problems" with the Lindstedt case, including some generated by Simmons's own actions or inaction. In August, Lindstedt reached a plea agreement in Broomfield that requires him to repay $9,000 taken from a stepson's college funds; through his lawyers, he's suggested that Simmons had "full knowledge" of his use of her accounts and is simply a disgruntled ex. But Simmons insists that Lindstedt committed a much larger fraud against her and her children, for which criminal charges have never been filed -- and that he has a pattern of predatory behavior that goes back years.
"It took me ten months to get it through my thick skull that this guy really ripped me off and that he was walking away and really didn't care about his kids," she says. "I believed in him right up until the end."
Simmons met Lindstedt in 1992 at Johnny's, a LoDo watering hole partly owned by Lindstedt. Simmons, a former Albuquerque TV journalist, was working as a reporter at KOA Radio at the time and recovering from the death of her first husband, an assistant district attorney. She had two sons but was hardly a struggling single mom: Her husband's life insurance, a small inheritance and the sale of property in New Mexico had provided her with a net worth in excess of half a million dollars.
Three years younger than Simmons, Lindstedt had already been married twice. He was from a well-to-do, well-respected Oregon family, the son of a church deacon. Simmons says she was impressed by his fondness for children. The two began dating and soon had a child of their own, William, born in 1993. The couple married in 1996.
By then, Lindstedt had left Johnny's. He held a series of restaurant management jobs, while Simmons drifted into public relations, freelance television production and back to school for a master's degree. In the late 1990s, Lindstedt decided to change careers.
"We decided it would be good for him to learn real estate," Simmons recalls. "He registered for an online course and was always on the computer in the basement. His dad, his family, everyone was so proud that he'd finally found something that was going to work for him."
Lindstedt soon announced that he'd joined a real estate firm that had offices in Boulder, Longmont and Erie. He headed off in the morning with a palm pilot and a cell phone and returned each day with stories of prospects and near misses, the crazy personalities at the office and the occasional big sale. Simmons never saw his workplace, but she did field calls for him that she assumed were from co-workers. Around the same time, Lindstedt took charge of the mail and the checkbook, asking Simmons to sign blank checks on her account that he would then fill out to pay household bills.
"He was home every day at three to get the mail," Simmons says. "I know it sounds strange, but he didn't have a college degree and hadn't been that successful in life. I decided the way to be a good wife was to build him up. He loved to be in charge of the bills, and I was glad to let him do it."
Lindstedt was a popular figure in the couple's Broomfield neighborhood, a youth soccer coach and scout leader. He boasted about the sales he had pending, the windfall he was expecting from his mother's estate and the shrewd investments he was making. He showed Simmons computer-generated statements tracking how well her mutual funds were doing.
"I thought it was odd that he was always around the house," says Pamela Simmons, Marcia's sister. "Toward the end, he would follow Marcia around a lot. She'd go to the computer, and he'd go with her. He was always running to the phone and looking at the readout and not answering it. Sometimes people would call for Marcia and he'd tell them she wasn't there. I thought he was just letting her get some rest."
Marcia Simmons says she had little inkling that anything was wrong until a trip to Kmart to buy a spatula in August 2001. "I go to the checkout line, open my wallet, and there's no cash," she says. "I write a check and it's rejected. So I decided to put it on a credit card -- and they were all gone. The only thing in my wallet was a Visa with John's name on it from 1991. It was a closed account."
She went home and demanded an explanation from Lindstedt. He told her that he'd ordered new credit cards, that there must be a glitch in their online banking. None of it made much sense. She tried to get her credit report off the Internet, only to have her service abruptly disconnected several times; Lindstedt, she says, kept disappearing from the room during these attempts.
She decided to try again in the middle of the night, while Lindstedt was sleeping. "Everything just started coming together in my head," she says. "I went downstairs, got on the computer and got right into the website. And I pulled up four pages of credit cards I didn't even know I had. It was the most horrific credit report I'd ever seen. I woke him up, and I was screaming, ŒWhat have you done?'
"The next morning he was gone," she says. "I went to his desk and started pulling out these envelopes of bills, all mislabeled. Collection stuff. Foreclosure notices. His briefcase was stuffed with papers, but his computer had been erased, and a lot of my stock files were missing. So I went through the trash. The accounts were all empty. I had 34 cents left in the change drawer."
The house, she discovered, was only days away from foreclosure. (Neighbors told her they'd tried to phone her when they saw the property listed for auction in the paper, but the call-blocking system Lindstedt had put on the phone had thwarted them as well as creditors.) She was facing more than $80,000 in delinquent home-equity loans and credit-card debt, much of it already turned over to collectors. Income taxes she thought had been paid had never been filed. The "paychecks" Lindstedt had deposited in their accounts had really been funds he'd diverted from her IRAs and mutual funds by faking her signature on checks and transfer orders, she says. And the $46,000 in savings bonds she'd purchased for her teenage son's college education was missing.
"He tried to cash out William's bonds, too," she says. "His own biological son. But the bank wouldn't take them."
Lindstedt phoned Simmons shortly after his departure. He told her that he was in the mountains and had taken some pills and was contemplating suicide. "He was well enough to drive home," she says. "But the magic had worked; his dad was out of his mind with worry. He wasn't the least bit concerned about the kids or what John had done. He just wanted to know where John was and how he was doing. It was like he'd been through it before."
In the subsequent divorce, Lindstedt waived any claim to the remaining equity in the house Simmons had purchased and agreed to assume liability for more than half the marital debt. In court filings, he has contended that Simmons was aware of the couple's dire financial straits and that much of the "missing" money went to cover household expenses.
Simmons disputes this. "As far as I knew, we had no credit-card debt, one house payment, no car payments and lived well within our means," she says. "Where did all that money go?"
Lindstedt did not return calls seeking comment. His attorney, Neeti Pawar, also declined to comment on the case. But according to an affidavit filed by a Broomfield detective who interviewed Lindstedt, he "admitted he was never a realtor and had merely created this facade. He said he handled the family finances and Marcia was Œnot totally aware' of their financial woes.... John said he was sick and suffering from depression."
Looking for a more coherent explanation, Simmons dug into his past. She talked to former business associates, who claimed that Lindstedt had mismanaged restaurant accounts and failed to pay taxes and vendors. She tracked down his second wife, who told her that she'd lost her car and house when Lindstedt failed to make the monthly payments.
Simmons didn't go to the police about the alleged fraud until mid-2003, days after the divorce settlement was finalized. She soon found her case divided between two jurisdictions, with the more recent acts falling under the purview of recently formed Broomfield County, while Boulder County had the rest. Simmons has been critical of Broomfield police for failing to open bank accounts and interview potential witnesses. But some observers fault her for not coming forward in a timely fashion and failing to cooperate fully with prosecutors.
"Credibility issues arise for jurors in marital situations that don't necessarily arise in other fraud cases," says Bob Grant, district attorney for Adams and Broomfield counties. "Ms. Simmons would not testify. That's her prerogative in a case like this, but it does complicate matters. She wanted a lot done, but the police don't work for one individual. They can't be a private investigative agency."
Simmons says she didn't want to be the only witness against her husband at trial.
In August, Lindstedt pleaded guilty in Broomfield to a single count of felony theft in the matter of his stepson's savings bonds, agreed to make restitution of $9,000 and received a deferred judgment. The Boulder District Attorney's Office hasn't announced whether it will file charges against Lindstedt; prosecutor Peter Hofstra declined to comment on the case.
The Broomfield plea failed to satisfy Simmons, who says the police have done little to determine what happened to the bulk of her savings. "I gave them a finished case except for the door to the banks," she says. "But they still haven't opened a single account to find out where the money went."
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Lindstedt now lives in Oregon, where his family owns beach property. In his divorce filings, he reported that he was working as an insurance agent, with take-home pay of $517 a month. Under "other income," he stated, "Loans from father as needed." Simmons says that her ex hasn't made his $100-a-month child-support payments since January and that she hasn't spoken to him since last Christmas. "There's no reason to," she says. "He makes up crazy stuff."
Lindstedt had liked to share childhood memories with Simmons. There was one particularly funny story about how, while waiting in line at the grocery store, he'd watched in amazement as an enormous ham dropped out of the dress of the "pregnant lady" in front of him. The would-be shoplifter then loudly demanded to know who'd thrown a ham at her.
Months after her rude awakening, Simmons was watching one of those caught-on-tape TV shows that feature actual surveillance videos. There was the ham incident, right down to the shoplifter's protests of innocence.
"John doesn't exist," she says. "John is a body that puts on a different personality according to what the needs are. There was nothing I knew about the man."