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Man accused in $20 million Ponzi scheme involving Utahns

Deputies seize a vehicle from the home of former LDS bishop Shawn R. Merriman in Aurora, Colo., Wednesday.
Deputies seize a vehicle from the home of former LDS bishop Shawn R. Merriman in Aurora, Colo., Wednesday.
Ed Andrieski, Associated Press

Federal authorities are seeking to seize millions in rare artwork, homes, cars, sports memorabilia and bank accounts in an investigation of a $20 million Ponzi scheme they say involved a former LDS bishop who gained notoriety for his extensive art collection.

Shawn R. Merriman, 46, is accused of running a multimillion-dollar scheme that bilked victims in Utah, Minnesota and his home state of Colorado.

According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, Merriman founded Market Street Advisors in 1994, raising at least $17 million to $20 million through the sale of interests in several companies to at least 38 investors in multiple states.

"Merriman represented to investors that he would invest their money in stocks and options and, to maintain that fa?de, generated false monthly statements showing annual rates of return of 7 percent to 20 percent," Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Julie Lutz wrote in the federal complaint. "Contrary to those representations, however, Merriman has admitted that, instead of investing in securities, he used investor proceeds to pay for withdrawals by other investors and to pay for personal expenses and support his lavish lifestyle."

Neighbors told the Denver Post that some of the victims were members of Merriman's ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he was once a bishop. Merriman's lavish art collection included works by Rembrandt, Picasso, Reubens and Durer.

His collection was profiled last year in an issue of the Mormon Times, a supplemental publication in the Deseret News. Merriman displayed rare art prints at LDS stake centers in the Denver area.

"We want to share our belief in Christ with our friends of other faiths, and we have built bridges of understanding within this community," Merriman told Mormon Times.

A portion of his collection was exhibited in 2005 at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City.

In a forfeiture motion filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for Colorado, prosecutors said Merriman admitted to the scheme. His attorney said in a statement to the Denver Post that Merriman contacted each of his clients and apologized.