GULFPORT -- An Ocean Springs retirement investor who for years dubbed himself the "most interested man on the Coast" pleaded guilty Tuesday to bilking clients out of more than $1 million in fraudulent investment deals.
One of his victims told the Sun Herald she was caring for her dying husband when a friend highly recommended Eduardo Diaz's service. The friend, she said, didn't know Diaz was converting some of his clients' money for his own use because Diaz had not tampered with her friend's account.
"He preys on women and widows," she said. "When my husband was sick and dying, I wanted someone to advise me on how to keep my retirement in tact. I turned to him. He came across as a friend. I trusted him. He said he was going to take care of me."
The woman started sending Diaz checks for large sums for him to invest. In total, she invested $160,000, the money she received in death and retirement benefits after her husband died.
"I just wanted to make sure I would have money for the rest of my life," she said. "All of it is gone. All of it."
What happened to her over a period of two years, she said, left her feeling "helpless" and "violated."
She learned Diaz was using her money for himself after an FBI agent called her.
"They found checks in his account that I had written," she said. "He put it in his own bank account."
Eduardo Diaz smiled and chatted with friends before the proceedings began Tuesday before Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr.
After a series of questions, Diaz pleaded guilty to wire fraud in a plea agreement with the government.
A federal grand jury had indicted Diaz in October on four counts of investor fraud and two counts of wire fraud. In exchange for his plea, the government is dismissing the remaining charges at his June 21 sentencing. Diaz is facing a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and up to $250,000 in fines plus orders to pay restitutions to his victims.
Several people showed up to see Diaz admit to stealing his investors' money. Diaz also had a few supporters. The Sun Herald asked Diaz for comment, but he declined along with his attorney, William Carl Miller.
According to authorities, Diaz lied about potential investments to encourage clients to sink money into his firm.
In some cases, records say, Diaz used clients' money on himself, or to pay other clients' dividends, or to refund or repay previous investors to avoid suspicion.
He also routinely shuffled money from one account to another to cover up his crimes.
Diaz bilked is clients for their retirement funds or other investments in both Harrison and Jackson counties between February 2012 and the date of the Oct. 6 indictment.
Diaz had his first run-in with trouble in the financial industry in April 2014 when the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority disbarred him. The action came after he settled a case against him filed by an Ocean Springs woman.
The woman accused Diaz of borrowing money from her and using it on himself. She had a total of $365,000 in loans and investments with Diaz.
Though Diaz settled that dispute, he never admitted any wrongdoing.
But, according to an FINRA investigation, Diaz had convinced the woman to invest into a company he said he controlled that had five rental properties. Diaz claimed he was going to use the money to remodel and refinance the rental properties, the FINRA report said.
The problem was Diaz did not own any property and had no real estate investments.
The FINRA's final report said Diaz lied to the woman to solicit $87,000 in loans from her.
Once the money was placed in her account at the firm Diaz worked for at the time, the investigation showed, Diaz would transfer the money to the woman's personal bank account. From there, he'd convince the woman to transfer the same amount of money to his personal bank account along with a payment on her loan.
Diaz's personal bank account contained almost all of the money the woman had invested with Diaz. To repay her, the FINRA report said, he used money he generated from selling securities out of the sane woman's brokerage account. Essentially, he was using the woman's own investment money to pay her back the money he had taken.
Diaz was a registered investor from February 1987 until Jan. 20, 2013 the FINRA report said. He also served as a registered agent in Minneapolis, Phoenix and Fort Lauderdale.
He moved to Ocean Springs in 1987 and helped open the retirement investment firm of Thompson, Diaz, Baxter & Associates in 1993. Diaz Retirement Investments in Ocean Springs opened its doors in October 2012.
Diaz often appeared in commercials touting his business.
"In life," he said, "it's more important to be interested than to be interesting. I'm interested in helping you retire, retire, retire."