From the January 2000 Idaho Observer:

Lawsuit filed against First Mountain Bank

Bank president implicated in investment scam

by Investigative Reporter Edward Snook

On December 31, 1999, a demand was made on First Mountain Bank of Big Bear, Calif., for $15 million on behalf of investors who were literally bilked of millions of dollars. The bank was given until January 4, 2000, to settle the demand in lieu of being sued in federal court.

Settlement had not been reached by the deadline and a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the State of Oregon in Eugene January 5. Approximately 30 plaintiffs claim that Dennis Schollenburg, past president of First Mountain, helped Tom Miller bilk millions from them.

From 1996 through 1999, Miller, representing himself as a representative of the Gideon Group, talked at meetings and with individuals around the country convincing them to invest in financial ventures. Most investors believed Miller to be representing the Gideon Bible Group, as he would talk of Jesus and helping people. Miller passed himself off as a morally sound “holy man” and was both believed and accepted by people from nearly every state in America.

Schollenburg was president of First Mountain during the time Miller was out peddling his investments. Miller told his investors that when they would call the bank their money would be secure and that funds from the investments would soon be available.

According to witnesses, Schollenburg also “floated” money for investors, set up accounts for them and discretely helped Miller to sell unsuspecting investors. According to one investor, “Tom Miller told me to call the president of the bank (Schollenburg) if I had any doubts about my investment. I called Mr. Schollenburg and he assured me that the money I had coming would soon be on its way. He said it had been 'tied up' in a bank in New York City by officials, but was due to be released soon. I didn't question my investment after talking with him because he was president of the bank.”

Our investigation has shown that both Miller and Schollenburg have spent the past few years living a “rich and famous” lifestyle. Schollenburg lives in a semi-mansion on one of the greens of a prestigious golf course in Palm Springs and Miller, while living and traveling like a millionaire, purchased a $5,000 antique rocking chair on one occasion.

The more than dubious combo are reported to have invested client money in the Bahamas, Canada, California and elsewhere for their personal gain. One witness informed The Oregon Observer that Schollenburg and Miller were looking at purchasing a lear jet and that they were making plans to start their own bank in Canada.

The Oregon Observer began an investigation of Miller in August, 1999, when one of the current plaintiffs retained us to go after Miller and help them recover their investment. I was able to secure $80,000 for them which resulted in other investors coming to us for help.

At the point I was about to inform the investors that it wouldn't be worth the time going after Miller, I discovered that Schollenburg, president of First Mountain Bank, was involved in Miller's scam. This fact presented a whole new scenario regarding the possibility of recovery.

As I started digging further into Schollenburg and the bank I discovered that not only was Schollenburg intricately involved with Miller, other bank employees were involved as well. Recently I was informed by a highly credible source that, “Schollenburg was actually the kingpin for the operation.”

The Oregon Observer has learned that the Oregon and California state attorney generals' offices, the FBI and other regulatory and law enforcement agencies have been aware of Schollenburg and Miller and their activities for well over a year. We can only assume that the reason law enforcement didn't clamp down on this scam was that they were after bigger fish. Many people have been hurt, some elderly and some who spent their entire retirement investing with Miller and Schollenburg, long after authorities had the opportunity to stop their activities.

One investor is in the process of losing his home and another elderly investor was forced out of retirement and back into the workplace.

As The Oregon Observer got closer to uncovering the full extent of the bank's involvement, the bank got rid of Schollenburg and brought in Doug Shearer as the new president of First Mountain Bank, presumably for the purpose of cleaning up after Schollenburg and others.

All was quiet until the plaintiff's attorney Terrence McCauley made a demand on the bank. Now everybody in law enforcement is concerned and we are informed that they are after Schollenburg and Miller. We have also been informed that the bank is after them as well.

Why did it take a demand and a subsequent lawsuit for authorities to kick into action? This question brings up the possibility of liability on the part of those in law enforcement who knew about the scam but allowed Schollenburg and Miller to continue their activities.

The Oregon Observer will update this highly volatile story in its February edition and we would ask anyone with information on Schollenburg and/or Miller, the Gideon Group or Miller Money to contact our office at: (541) 474-7885.

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