Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tropical American Tree Farms Update and Other Teak Farm Promotions

Latest update: https://www.internationalappraiser.com/2019/07/tropical-american-tree-farms-update.html

I received many complaints about Tropical American Tree Farms (TATF) in Costa Rica, who did not sell titled land, but sold unenforceable "certificates of ownership" in individual trees, written in the English language and thus not enforceable in Costa Rican courts. Some investors claim that they are due payments in arrears for as long as 16 years. The owners of TATF were an American couple; the husband died about a year ago. It seems that no investor has received any payouts from this investment over the last two decades.

I sometimes get requests from readers to appraise their trees, but I have not yet been able to help. I have encountered investors who have no deed (known as the “escritura”) and cannot locate their trees on a map. Lacking that information, I cannot perform an appraisal for the IRS. I cannot state that their trees are worthless, either, because trees are not worthless.

If I have the relevant escrituras, I can appraise the investor’s ownership interest in the property, and if the escritura demonstrates that title has not been transferred to the investor, then the value of the ownership interest is likely to be zero.

Continued teak farm investment promotions

These are not necessarily fraudulent but are advertised with a large amount of puffery and unproven claims. For instance, in an issue last year of International Living, former congressman Bob Bauman, who normally presents sound legal advice for would-be expatriates, presented the new Panamamian residency visa for immigrants (such as Americans) wishing to pursue forestry in that country along with the unvetted investment claims of a Panamian teak farm investment promoter. (IL promptly removed the investment claims from its web site when I informed them.) The standard line from these promoters is that income starts coming from trimmings of teak trees at 13 to 14 years and that the trees can be profitably harvested at 20 years of age. No legitimate Latin American forester seems to agree with this.

"OLAT" -- Organizacion LatinoAmericana de la Teca, the trade organization for teak farmers, tells a different story. They considered a teak tree to be mature at 30 years of age, and immature teak has less value than mature teak, enough less that they did not even attempt to measure the value of teak less than 30 years old in their price surveys. Visit their web site at www.OLATgroup.org .

What are current teak prices?

Costa Rica's Oficina Nacional Forestal published average teak prices in June 2012 as 225 colones per pmt (pulgadas maderera tica) for standing trees and 326 colones per pmt for logs. A pmt is equivalent to 1 inch x 1 inch x 3.36 meters. Based on 504 colones per dollar and 364 pmt per cubic meter, this translates to a price of $162 per cubic meter for standing trees and $235 per cubic meter for logs. Bear in mind that the price per cubic meter increases as the tree matures.

My continued advice is to pursue all foreign investments with personal due diligence. If one's main goal is a Panamian residency visa, a forestry investment will help meet that goal, but don't expect to get rich that way, and make sure to actively manage your property.

Final analysis

In addition to being an appraiser, I have also been a Certified Fraud Examiner for the last 13 years.  What TATF looks like is a confidence scheme from the start. The art of this con is that it takes 20 years for investors to find out that they have been defrauded.

Some of you have expressed doubt that the Brunners had bad intentions at the start, but that is how confidence schemes work -- they rely on your misplaced confidence by seeming like trustworthy people. When investment promoters or loan borrowers smile a lot and talk about Jesus, I have learned to view it as a red flag and an effort to manipulate me.  I've been had before, too.


Snoopy said...

I am an "investor" in TATF. I knew there were risks: away from home, foreign country, no deed, etc. So I took a chance. I lost. When I go to the casino, I take $20 with me. If I end up losing it, I lost.

My opinion is there was no scam or ill will intended with Steve and Sherry. Steve died, Sherry is fighting cancer, some trees got flooded, the enterprise has collapsed with no leadership. So I lost. No scam, no devious behavior, just a deal gone bad, but nobody's fault. It is like buying land in Hawaii and having the lava flow take you out of the game.

I will claim a total loss on my taxes for 2013. Fortunately, the loss is relatively minor. If you put all your eggs in one basket, shame on you.


Unknown said...

I tend to agree with Mike above that initial intentions were honest. However, there was very unrealistic expectations of tree growth rates and especially cubic metre lumber value. This was exacerbated by young teak being valued per board foot as if it was 30 plus year old teak. Even today the TATF website boasts similar price assumptions. Probably RALEO and SURFACES were an attempt to purchase young teak at the inflated prices promised to investors however it seems to have failed as well and the factory in Pavas Costa Rica is now closed. Once the recession occurred, the supply of new money dried up and the entire system, very similar to a pyramid system started to crumble.

Probably the largest problem I am aware of facing TATF, besides lack of leadership is the huge CCSS bill (CCSS or Caja is the employer paid portion of employee benefits in Costa Rica and is very expensive). Two years ago TATF was listed among the top 10 defaulters in Costa Rica's "wall of shame" published by the Government of Costa Rica. Now, TATF is prohibited to cut any trees or employ workers until this bill is paid. Likely recovery will prove impossible for the Brunner family unless they simply sell substantial property as is - something morally questionable when the surface rights are owned by individual investors. However, this will probably become the only viable solution to extract any value from these assets.

Anonymous said...

I heard that TATF had started harvesting their plantations in Costa rica , dont know exactly when but i guess it is true and good that now invester will get their profits .

Luis Calderon said...

Hi all ,
Good news to all investers TAFT have started harvesting the plantations in Costa Rica

PK3 said...

Is the news of harvesting from a reliable source or just a piece of propaganda? PK3 tree owner.

Dawne said...

We are also TAFT investors and would greatly appreciate any detailed information on these latest comments regarding progress forward on harvesting and proven profits!

Unknown said...
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AnnieT said...
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AnnieT said...

My husband and I are also TATF investors, frustrated with the lack of updates. We are planning to go to Costa Rica at some point to check things out ourselves. We'd appreciate any information on how to track down TATF personnel, attorney, or operations in Costa Rica.

Anonymous said...

PLEASE PLEASE share what you learned on your trip to TATF. We need to know if they are still a viable business or need to be written off. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Pete Stock said...

Another investor here. Email bounces. Phone calls go to voicemail but are never returned. Is there sufficient circumstances to form some some sort of class action?

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...
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MC said...

Here are the contact details for Eduardo Moreira who, I am advised, is reponsible for all TATF´s affairs in Sherry´s absence. It appears that he has Power of Attorney.

email emoreira@tatf.com and office phones are 506-22899592 , 506-22883208 , or cell 506-83162611 Attorney.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

I have referred your comments to a CFE colleague in Costa Rica who specializes in asset recovery for the numerous scams occurring down there. His name is Ed Edmister and his e-mail is ed@csi-8.com.

Unknown said...

The fact that there has been ZERO credible information in YEARS from the farms (a multi multi million dollar operation, not a hobby farm) SCREAMS scam and fraud. Steve died.... and its a shame for sure, but he knew he was in trouble, and didn't plan for succession? I'm not buying it. Sherry is not well, again... nobody else was qualified to head up an ENOURMOUS operation? Either it was a scam, or extreme incompetence/neglect. I was last down to the farms in 2009, and at that time they were clearly not taking proper care of the trees. Since we have had only bad news or no news subsequently to that, the only assumption is that its time to divide up the assets for the benefit of the investors, or have someone else revive the operation in time to salvage the enourmous ill will towards TATF that must exist. And whether someone spent $5k or $500k towards this operation is irrelevant. The whole thing was huge and needed appropriate leadership to redeem even a small portion of investors money.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

I am not an investor in TATF, just an appraiser of Costa Rican real estate and a Certified Fraud Examiner. I see certain elements in this investment scheme that would suggest that it was a scam from the start. Some of these elements are:

1. Misrepresentations of return on investment from the very start.

2. Lack of enforceable ownership rights. The tree certificates received by investors have no standing in Costa Rican courts. If you do not have title to the land under the trees you have nothing.

3. I do not know the Brunners personally, but I am told that they frequently professed to be good Christians when meeting with investors. I assume that most of the businesspeople I deal with are Christians, but I have had bad personal experiences with businessmen and women who felt the need to announce their Christianity before cheating me in a business transaction. A confidence scheme often operates in such a manner. Bernie Madoff, for instance, used his professed Jewish faith to steal billions from Jewish charities and investors.

4. Forums discussing the topic of TATF, including this one, seem to have "ringers" who continually announce that everything is all right. One such forum had a member who described himself as a TATF skeptic, but then changed his mind to the point where he continued to state that Steve Brunner was going to make him rich. After Steve Brunner died, this member never posted again. Hmmmm.

Unknown said...

Vernon, I have the 2nd highest number of posts on the TATF forum on investorshub. The only guy with more posts than me has no "skin in the game"... he is not an active investor and has been an aggressive naysayer of TATF for a long time. On the other hand, the forum also had plenty of people show up that would not give evidence towards why they held TATF in such high regards. Some claimed to have been paid etc but no checks were ever presented as evidence. My experience was that I went down that way in 2009, visited the farms (some of them) and saw what I believe to have been trees that were marked as mine. Problem was, young trees need to be pruned diligently in the first few years of their life...once they are 15' tall or so they'll go on their own.... but otherwise they need to be pruned properly. Other than some string tying up trees that had been blown over in the wind, it was obvious minimal pruning was done. Steve himself admitted he hadn't visited the farms in years... too little time was his excuse. When I met w/ Steve and Sherry in 09 they both looked physically very tired. I don't know what they were really doing, but something was wrong. I have heard nothing in years, and my fellow investors have apparently not gotten ambitious enough to take a trip similar to mine in 09. I'm a little stumped at why nobody else has gone...since it is/was obvious to me that there are MILLIONS of $$ invested here...is nobody else looking out for their investments? I'm lost here... just lost and I'm hoping against hope for some news from SOMEONE.

Sam said...

I am investor heading to Costa Rica in two weeks. Can anyone recommend whom I might contact for more information on TATF while I am there. Also, do you know who I might contact on visiting the farms. Is Sherry still in Costa Rica.

Does anyone have a government contact that I might try and talk with?

Kurt Nicaise said...

I am an investor who started with TATF in 1991 or so. Any news is appreciated. At this point, I am doubting to ever get any return, but I still have hope and believe that these trees are still gorwing and are rightfully owned by me. Just hoping to converse with some other TATF tree owners and may be start a communication stream. I did not join in the lawsuit that I believe may be currently underway. I guess I am holding out with some hope. knicaise@gmail.com

Unknown said...

Sam, wish I could help.

Kurt, I am not invested as heavily as you nor for as long, and though there still may be some glimmer of hope because I do actually believe that the trees are there, the likelihood of recovering money outside of a lawsuit is exceptionally slim. When a multi million dollar investment company stops giving credible information / regular updates to their "shareholders" investors, whatever, this is a red flag for fraud. There were many signs and symptoms leading up to the lawsuit, and instead of Steve and Sherry actually giving investors something they could really hang their hat on, they just kept spinning their yarns and offering new deals on trees. The focus was on selling new trees, not on maintaining a proper relationship with existing investors. Shame... it was a great idea which is why I committed myself so wholly to it. Kurt, if you invested in 1991, then your 21 year thinning is past due. Have you received a check.... at all? How about any notification that your trees were thinned? How about any evidence of TATF being organized and systematic about ANYTHING other than selling more trees? I understand the hope, I really do. The extreme LACK of positive, credible evidence is deafening and overwhelming. I cannot ignore it. Please please, if anyone has news, post it here.

suckered by trees said...

Also invested, feel stooopid. My problem is that it is in an IRA and I so far have not been able to find a way to close the account since there is no proof of anything. I also don't want to pay fees for them to manage nothing. Our loss is around $4000so it also seems like it would be good money after bad to try to chase this down. Just some solid info to close that account and any more to be able to fill out a IRS loss form would be mighty nice too.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

I have received many e-mails like this. In order to document a loss (for tax purposes) due to fraud, you should have a police report. Maybe one of you should file a criminal complaint against TATF if it has not already been done.

If this cannot be done in Costa Rica, consider that the Brunners are U.S. citizens, as are most of the victims. SEC rules may have been broken, and the FBI handles such complaints.

They sold these investments over the Internet. Some of you may have paid for your investment by mailing a check. This is the jurisdiction of the US Postal Inspection Service, a force of 1600 criminal investigators whose main mission is to combat mail fraud. They are a surprisingly effective resource against fraud and are not quite as overwhelmed as the FBI.

Anonymous said...

There are nearly 100 tatf investors currently involved in litigation against tatf to recover their investments.all have detailed evidence of fraud ..there are many attorneys in san jose suing tatf the evidence is ovetwelming i ead an investot in tatf and luckily begged a refund.info on lawsuit go to ihub tupe timber your contact belmontx.

Anonymous said...

I am also an TAFT investor and would like to know more about the lawsuit or any legal action in place.

Anonymous said...

I place ihub tupe timber in a search and found nothing. Can you be a bit more specific about the URL.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

It might help the readers if someone can cite an actual civil or criminal complaint by number and jurisdiction.

Anonymous said...

I've owned tress at TATF for almost 2 decades. I've never received a penny in return for the tens of thousands of dollars of money giving in good faith to TATF to grow trees on my behalf. I've personally investigated and documented corporate fraud in the past and this operation unfortunately has all the hallmarks of gross negligence (at best) or possibly deliberate fraud. It is clear beyond all doubt that the operation was entirely dependent on Steve and Sherry, that no solid management team was built to run the operation in their stead and that no financial planning was done to weather the loss of one (or both) of the founders.

The organization was incredibly sloppy about handling inquires for the last decade of it's existence...dozens of solicitations for buying new tress were received via the main email address. If one inquired about buying new tres to that email address, the messages were answered in hours. Asking a question about existing trees via that exact same email address was met with stone silence.

This is one of the hallmarks of financial fraud. Many similar hallmarks are apparent in the way TATF was set-up and operated.

The best way to think of any money "invested" in TATF is that of a total loss.

Usually when one sees such obvious hallmarks of fraud on the surface, what is revealed upon closer forensic examination is quite a bit worse.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely ,it is a fraud and saying that steve and sherry were incompetent is being very generous.

Investors like myself who bought in 2000 trees plus began investigating and found evidence of fraud many years ago.

Tatf and sherry still have their elaborate website running offering teak for sale and boasting riches after 20 years.

Tatf and owners are in another dimension.

Does crime ring a bell.

Sam said...

I visited Costa Rica from Feb. 28-March 8, 2014 and ran into a neighbor of Steve Brunner's who was very helpful. In addition, he gave me the name of some attorneys who I discussed the TATF with. If you are interested knowing some of those discussions please contact me at mary@theraysacompany.com.

Sam said...

While in Costa Rica I talked with some attorneys. Could someone who is involved in the lawsuit let me know what attorneys you are working with and if others may join in . MR

Anonymous said...

Would like to have some information to relate to the company who holds my TATF IRA account. Need this to prove TATF is no longer a going company. Thanks?

Pat Cronenberg said...

I am another "small potatoes", only $6000 investor and am anxious to know what any of the large investors are doing to find out whats going on currently with TATF? and do they know anything new? I went down and rode horses out with Steve to see someone's trees, not mine and had a good time about 15 years ago, and it all looked good then, but that was then. Thanks for any info,

Pat C, The Villages, Florida

Solman said...

I invested in 500 trees and part of them are IRA. Ugh!
Seems like we have all been had. Being that there may still be trees there, has anyone thought of going there and working or trying to hire help and revive the operation and reap the benefits - if there is any. My impression was that they did have tree advisers and / or managers. Any thoughts on this? Also, if there is a lawsuit in process how does one get to know more about that and possibly be a part of that?

Unknown said...


The overall issue is that we have ZERO clue as to what, if anything is going on down there. I'm surprised nobody has gone down looking for TATF....to get answers. The trees are in fairly remote places, so it would be unlikely for anyone to be able to mount an effort to DIY trimming /thinning etc....IMHO


ps, as far as I know, the current lawsuit is closed, but there will be others

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Quick question - if i sold my investment of trees to someone for say $1.00 per block, could i take it as a capital loss at that point? seems like i could and then i could just be done with the whole thing...thoughts on this strategy?

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how to contact those involved in the law suit for TATF and any contact information that may be available. Please advise. Thanks. perkes4@netzero.net

Anonymous said...

Is there a actual civil or criminal complaint by number and jurisdiction? Please advise.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how to contact sherry in the united states?

Anonymous said...

I would like to also get an update on the lawsuit, or any other information. If there is nothing there, then there is no point continuing paying IRA fees.
email end308@aol.com

Anonymous said...

I am an investor and if anyone could point me in the direction of a law suit or any other information that would be great.
The sad tree investor.

Patpnp@gmail.com said...

Has anyone heard from sam who could reached at Mary@theaysacompany.com? I emailed him in April and will resend another inquiry. He had visited the farm on March and talked to an attorney re Tatf and said he could be contacted re the conversation?

Pat CRONENBERG who did get one approx $500 thinning ck about 4 to 5 years ago. I would be be very interested in knowing about the status of any lawsuit and what is the status of the land

Anonymous said...

I know Steve from 1983 when he had a house in German Village. He built a small guest house in its corner for his newly married employee to live in it for free. I renovated the adjacent building he bought. He paid me my whole tuition to graduate from Architecture at OSU. He was a great role model father. His personality did not match someone doing fraud at all. My guess is once he became ill, people working around his operation must have been incompetant or have taken advantage it.

Rob said...

I'm an invester and know several others who have their investment in an IRA account.

Hope someone can come up with a way to declare this investment worthless. We would like to stop paying IRA fees.
Thanks for this (blog)

EJK said...

There is major and collective litagation underway.
Contact p_lauro@yahoo.com.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous that lived in Steve's guesthouse: Steve entered into this tree farm with his wife Sherry and his two sons worked on the farm that are now adults and could easily settle all these issues if they believed in an honest and true investment for the investors. However, nobody has come forward. Sherry has disappeared of the face of the planet, so to speak. It appears that the investment went into bought property in the name of the Brunners, on which they planted trees and sold to investors. I believe that you will find that the family has a lot of property in CR that is disconnected to the trees and can not be touched. Steve Brunner was a real estate lawyer and would have understood how to put things in place in the event of accidental death or other circumstances as circumstances may have been related to the investors.

yumalag said...

About once a year I check in on TATF. Glad to find this post although it caused me to get no sleep last night as I was still holding out some hope. I have more than a few thousand dollars invested. I also visited the farms several years ago and touched what they told me were 'my trees'. I met a couple that lived in a small house whom I was told were in charge of thinning and maintaining my trees. I, too, am just trying to figure out how to proceed.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

Some readers have contacted me about appraising their tree investments so that they can declare a tax loss and/or terminate their IRAs associated with TATF.

In order to perform an appraisal acceptable to the IRS, I need to identify the property and its ownership. That means showing where the trees are located on a map and presenting the deed for the land (known in Costa Rica as the "escritura"). If I can show that the land is actually still owned by the Brunners or TATF, then I can demonstrate that a particular investor's interest in the land has no standing and no market value. So far, no investor has been able to show their properties on a map and present the deed for the land their trees sit on. I want to help, but I have a lack of information.

Anonymous said...

I recently traveled to the farms to investigate my investment and found my trees gone (cut down) and cattle were on where my trees used to be. I tried calling TATF and couldn't get through emails not answered. Also checked my trees in palmar and sierpe both farms were of limits no trees in sight.
I think those properties have been sold and the whole thing is finished I will right off my loss.

Anonymous said...

I have Equity Trust also. I do not understand how Equity can hold an IRA for a company and not be aware legally of the contacts for the owner. The company has taken money for years from investors and now they have no idea who the company is or how to contact them. Are theren no legal requirements to manage an IRA for a company such as TATF. It seems that it is a willing participant in managing what appears to be a fraudulent account and continues to collect dollars illicitly. It's not holding $$ or managing. Do they not requirement Annual Reports or something?

Anonymous said...

Okay. Trees are cut down at Palmar and Sierpe farms. Were these all the farms that the Brunners had trees?

Who is Paul Lauro. He seems to think that he is the only chance for ROI from TATF. He has a yahoo address and does not answer questions. Does not seem legit.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what city and state Sherry Brunner resides in the USA today?

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Brunner lives in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Chad Marsh said...

Regarding the farms, Palmar and Sierpe must have been newer ones, I don't even recall those names. Originally when I started with them in '96 there were Capital, Santo Domingo, Rio Blanco, and Campo Real, with San Rafael added right around there somewhere.

To those speculating this whole thing was a scam from the start, I won't say it's absolutely not possible, but you'd have a hard time convincing me of that. I met with the Brunners several times, including visiting them and the farms, and I just don't see it. They never guaranteed me anything, the projections they gave included a chart showing various possibilities, starting from zero percent increase in wood prices. I asked about fires, floods, pests, any other natural disasters and was told plainly that yes, there is risk. Sure I'm not happy with the current state and I figure that money is lost, but in my mind it was not their intention to end up here.

Finally, until someone offers up a better place to continue these conversations, apparently this blog is it. (sorry Vernon)
With that being said, there sure are a lot of 'Anonymous' posters, any particular reason you aren't using your real name?

Mike said...

I have 400 1996 teak trees on the Bella Luz farm which is near the Panamanian border. I was told this farm is fairly remote. I've never been there but I have to imagine my trees have been harvested since they would now be 20 years old and actually worth something. I received a letter from IRA Services who manages my investment and they have not been in contact with the Brunner's since 2010. They have written down the value of my investment to $0.01. Mike

suckered by trees said...

I have equity trust holding my "trees" in an IRA. After numerous conversations and my internet research sent, they reduced the value of my investment to $1. I no longer pay any fees. I figure I'll try to keep tabs on this from time to time but that's it. It's a loss. From now on no risky investments in a self directed IRA where there is cumbersome paperwork. That was stupid.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have GPS coordinates for the TATF tree farms? It should be pretty easy to look for clearcuts via google satellite images.

Anonymous said...

as someone who has spent years in Latin America and the lumber industry, I am pretty sure this was always a scam. I came across their website years ago, and the growth rates and dollar values were too high. They also claimed to be planting and harvesting Cuban mahogany at 25 years. That is a joke, Cuban mahogany will not grow well there, and in the Caribbean it takes 60-80 years to mature and the tree is still small. Also, teak needs the best soil to grow well, and a longer dry season than most places where they are growing it or it has too much sapwood and they cut it too young. They did not do the proper research to plant the right trees for the conditions and figure out the true growth and values
OR - they did that and decided to lie instead and make a lot of money!
The price of $40 per planted tree is at least 8 times the true value at year one, and at least 10 to 20 times what it costs to plant it.

They made MILLIONS from the suckers who bought the trees before the trees were a year old.

I am sure no one who bought the trees paid a professional who knows about tropical trees, forestry, etc before they made the investment. Because no professional would have advised to make the purchase. Don't hire a suit to know if the the dirt is good, hire someone who works with the dirt.

Legal situation in Costa Rica can be tricky, but I would suggest all the investors get together, hire just 1 attorney, share costs, etc. But do more research to hire the attorney than you did to buy the trees, or your problems will double. A good lawyer may just say to walk away, a bad one might tell you to fight and pay him a lot.

EP St Augustine FL said...

We visited some of our trees in 2001 in Sierpe. I took GPS coordinates at one location -- N 08 50.527' W 83 28.932'. Google maps satellite view shows that as still wooded, but certainly not in any kind of neat tended rows. All in all, looks like we'll be writing off our (non-IRA) investment for 2014 taxes unless something concrete comes up in the next couple of months. -- EP, St Augustine FL

Anonymous said...

Did you see the trees or overgrowth.?
In that area overgrowth takes hold 2 inches a day.

Anonymous said...

Melina, and Balsa trees spread quickly evasive there.
quickly reach 50 ft plus. I doubt if teak is still there.
Tatf planted teak there where others have rice.
sorry to rain on anyone's hopes.

Randy said...

As an investor, I know where these farms are located near the west coast of Costa Rica as I have visited several times.

I also read the story about sales tax and social security payments collected but never paid by TATF.

I also rejected joining a lawsuit to recover money from the company as I don't see that happening with so many illegalities taking place.

I have not received any returns for my substantial investment 18 years ago. Upon learning of Steve's death, I offered my services to help Sherry. She did not respond and I suspect no longer owns the land where these farms are located.

Although I may never see my original investment, I wish her well with her children and her demons.

Unknown said...

I stumbled over this blog while attempting to find the TATF web site. I want to thank everyone here who has commented.

In 1983 I met the Brunners, Steve and Sherry, at an EXPO in Las Vegas, NV., a most engaging couple. I sincerely wanted to invest on some kind of forest operation in Latin America, and they looked [initially] to be a good prospect. Unfortunately, I could not understand how you could have a title to land, but no 'title' was available for a 'tree'. What happened if the land was sold out 'from under' the tree(s)?

I also saw no system for management 'growth' continuance. They showed me some pictures of their 'staff', but all seemed to be nothing more than CR workers - basically field hands. Who would follow the Brunners in such a long term investment?

Two things: I also was nervous about investing directly in Latin America, which I regarded then, and continue to regard today, as a higher risk than normal - particularly as a non-citizen. Second, fast-growing plantation teak has 'boring' grain characteristics and brings a lot lower retail price on the lumber market - often less than half as much as 'wild' teak. As much as I wanted to invest I just couldn't see the 'solidness' of such an investment.

My commiserations go out to all of you here who had such hopes on an investment that, emotionally, made so much sense. It could and should have worked. Alas, it didn't.

Best wishes to all here,

Rod Currie

Anonymous said...

Hi Rod,

Thanks for your post here about meeting Steve and Sherry at expo in Las Vegas in 1983. That would be 10 years before they began TATF s and selling millions of teak trees to folks on the Internet.
Steve the owner (lawyer) had 10 plus years to craft a contract (agreement) to protect himself and Sherry from liability .
During this 10 year span there was another Costa Rica company that was selling teak for ridiculous prices (dutch company Flor y Fauna) that was in Costa Rica court being sued by investors from fraud.
Having said that I know lawyer Steve and wife Sherry had plenty of time to design a foolproof contract to hide under.







Anonymous said...

I visited Costa Rica several times in the late '90s, looking to buy my own land for forestry. I was using a RE agent in Dominical who was a friend of the Brunners. In the end, I didn't invest in either TAFT or CR real estate for one reason: Squatters. The Brunners had > 10,000 acres they acquired using other peoples money. Given the descriptions of neglect many posters have noted in the recent years, the odds of the Brunners still owning all this land is not great. CR knows how to recycle land sold to foreigners...

Anonymous said...

Hi Brad,

Did you see that TATF appears to have disappeared?
There website was removed by authorities. I guess their gone for good!
What a shame for those that did'nt join the lawsuit!
TATF is gone.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean when you say "What a shame for those who didn't join the lawsuit"? My family owns a large number of trees with TATF and we were not aware of any lawsuit. Would you please enlighten us. Thank you.

suckered by trees said...

I was not aware of a law suit either. Nor whether the suit was in Costa Rica or the US. If it was a class action like here, then all investors would automatically be joined and any net proceeds would be distributed by the courts net of expenses. If somebody wanted us to join a law suit and pay our own freight I think that would have been a scam too. I had my trees in an IRA with Equity. I started refusing to pay fees several years ago and they finally reduced the account value to $1 this year. There it will stay until I'm moldered in my grave I expect. This was my husband's idea and I wish I had put my foot down all the way. But the partial way at least prevented too much money from the start and I wouldn't let him buy any more. There was a disgruntled employee who got hold of their email list and spilled a lot of beans with a year of our investment. I knew that was the tip of the iceberg despite the attempt at damage control by the Brunners.

Anonymous said...

Ok if you own trees with tatf I guess you didn't need to join lawsuit.

joe shelton said...

Joe S Monroe NH

We invested $10K in TAFT over the past 20 years. Can any one give me some direction as to how I may write off our non-IRA investment for 2014 taxes?

Anonymous said...

I was the one who asked earlier about the GPS coordinates. Thanks to EP for the Sierpe farm coordinates. That's the same farm that my trees were supposedly planted in. It looks like there has been a lot of clearcutting in that area. I'm definately screwed, and will write off my non-IRA investment this year. It sure doesn't pay to try to do the right thing sometimes.... sigh...

Anonymous said...

I will try to answer some questions people have.
1) There is lawsuit? Yes, there is one. The problem is that all documentation done for the scam is in English, and CR courts will not admit them.
2) Who is Paul Lauro? Paul is an investor who put a large amount of money into TATF and initiated the first formal legal action in CR. He is one of the lead plaintiffs.
3) Was TATF an scam from the beginning? Today, it does not matter what it was. Today, it is proven to be a deceitful event.
4)Where is TATF today, it is a dissolved corporation that the CR has a lien on the land for 1.2 million to cover unpaid Social Security, that Steve and Sherry failed to pay over more than 10 years.
5) How much is the value of the concocted scam? People have lost around 100 million dollars. A PI asses that Sherry and her son had taken 10 cents on the dollar for the value of land and sell it to other parties for a consideration of around 5 million.

Fran Wincek said...

I am a very small TATF investor, only $1200. and had long since written off the pseudo-Christian blather of the Brunners. I came across an early email clearing out my old AOL box, found this link and started reading the comments here. I am sorry to hear so many had so much more in this 'investment'. Isn't there any chance of attaching Sherry and her son's gains here in the US? They must have brought the funds back with them. RICO laws, perhaps? After 9/11 a lot of the money transfer and banking regulations tightened, didn't they? Did they file taxes? Isn't that documentation discoverable?
Maybe there is no recourse in Costa Rica but the IRS should be interested in taxable income.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you did not invest alot of money with them. I lost thousands .
I think your right about money transfers fall under US jurisdiction.
Almost everyone sent checks or wires to CR tatf sa.
Sherry whom ran tatf lives in Georgia I think both government and tatf investors could do class action effort to remedy victims.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

For those who seek criminal prosecution, one helpful resource is the US Postal Inspection Service, who are often used to prosecute fraudsters for wire fraud and mail fraud. They are often able to accomplish what the overburdened FBI or SEC can't do.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone been able to write off this wonderful investment on their Federal taxes? If so, what do you need to prove that your investment is worthless? Thanks!

Jaybob said...

Hi, all
I learned of this site from my sister-in-law, who also has invested in trees. We visited the farm at Dominical in 2006, and, as others have done, got a tour of the trees. I bought native hardwoods, thinking that they'd be acclimated to the local environment, and would mature sooner than would the teak.

In retrospect, this was likely a Ponzi scheme, with only the early investors receiving any returns.

All of the posts have opened my eyes to the magnitude of the scam.

I really appreciate Vernon Martin's expertise

Anonymous said...

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let alone the content!

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MikeP said...

I invested about 20K via a Roth IRA, held through Equity Trust. I would be grateful for any information on the alleged lawsuit as well as tax implication and the procedures required to write this off as a loss.

Many years ago, after the leaked email from a disgruntled employee (I never got the email, just the followup from the Brunners), I met a fellow investor who was concerned about fraud. I did some research and I remember that the Brunners were closely associated with an Evangelical church located in the same town as Mid-Ohio Securities (Now Equity Trust), the same institution that investors were pointed towards when buying the trees. Coincidence? Who can say. But while some have suggested that the Costa Rican courts may not have either jurisdiction or suitable evidence, if a US financial institution was knowingly involved in setting up the financial vehicles for what appears to be fraudulent investments, then US courts would have jurisdiction. In addition, Costa Rica is a signatory to the CAFTA. Perhaps there is a provision in CAFTA that would allow compensation.

I did visit my trees (all of them) in 2005. Some were fantastic, some were not. I did get an earlier thinning report showing I had a couple thousand Bf of teak. So, in theory, I have some lumber sitting somewhere.

JS said...

JS A grateful thank you for all these posts. We also invested, and have been watching the internet for updates. Assuming it's not recoverable, we have not wanted to invest thousands of dollars for extensive legal investigations overseas. If anyone can set up a class action suit or any of these suggestions work, please please keep posting.

Anonymous said...

I used to own tatf teak trees year 1999 and 2000 years planted on the San Gabriel farm and the Las Lomas farm.
I used to visit them with Juan the farm manager. I went there last week to have a look since I lost contact with tatf altogether.
I found the gravel road to San gabriel to be rerouted and houses blocking the entrance. There were new families built cabins on San gabriel so that land was invaded by farmers. In Costa Rica it's legal to squat on unused land it's old peasant law from long time ago.
I don't know if the teak trees are still there?
I then visited Las Lomas and found the same situation.
I think as I thought from the start that the people that benefited the most were the poor costa Ricans that squared 100 and therefore took the land. Free land just put cows on it and cut the trees have more kids.
It beets working for a living!
O the other beneficiary of all tatf investors were steve Sherry and some other big investors that made out nicely.
For all its worth sorry to all of you investors that lost your money I guess this should be a lesson to others that investing in cr in not a good idea.

EJK said...

For a richly detailed history of this ingenious scam, including many entries at the beginning by Steve Brunner himself, go to the Investors Hub and search timber, then Taft. My family was heavily invested and we experienced this from the late nineties on. Thru that blog we tried hard to discourage future investors and enlighten present ones.
We were leading participants on that blog and you can read our updates under the usernames, justcfrall and belmontx
Jack K.
Miami, Florida.

Anonymous said...

To "suckered by trees" post of 27Jul14, what documentation did you have to submit to Equity Trust to get them to de-value your trees? I just called them and they need a form filled-out and some documentation that the company no longer exists.

suckered by trees said...

To Anonymous who asked how to get Equity Trust to devalue. I have an IRA with trees there. I started off by refusing to pay their fees, then provided all the documentation I could which included stuff on the internet that I could find. Finally the devalued it to $1.00 rather than close. That way if something happens to my advantage the account is still there. I seriously doubt it. Otherwise I can discuss this with my tax advisor to see if I should "withdraw" from Equity but that seems like a sticky wicket with the IRS to me.

suckered by trees said...

To anonymous about getting Equity to devalue. I have an IRA. First I refused to pay fees, discussed it with them on the phone, then I gathered all the internet info I could on the company, copies of my email inquiries to TATF that were not replied to, etc. They devalued to $1. That way if a miracle happened the account would still be open. I have not yet discussed with my tax advisor if there would be something I could do to declare the loss, but since the documentation is still rather thin that might not be the best idea.

EJK said...

After my last post I discovered that the Inveastor Hub blog on TATf I referred to was mostly deleted by the TaTF proxy who took over it and pretended to be an investor.
This ultimately caused the forum to be shut down.
The first thousand posts were thrown out by this person posing as seven different happy tree owners. Those posts were of the early disappointments of investors and of a runners duplicitous responses.

Anonymous said...

Jack and all investors
We posted for years on the ihub for sure trying to open the eyes of investors . Please refer to ihub for the details.
I especially called tatf a scam I am glad my father and I shared our experience about tatf here and on ihub even though we were taken by this scam we wanted to share it. Thanks especially to my father whom has spent countless hours organizing and writing for everyone. we were taken but not silenced.
God bless America.


Justice for all. Braddock K. Son.

Unknown said...

To "suckered by trees" thank you for your advise on how to proceed at Equity Trust. I have an IRA there as well and have been getting nowhere.
Another huge thank you to Vernon for posting this blog.

MikeP said...

I spoke to Equity the other day. They gave me a different form than the one suggested above. The lady pretended like I was the first customer to raise this issue. She eventually admitted that was not the first she had heard of it. She said I had to get the form notarized by a third party appraiser and still pay my fees. If I did not pay, they would take over the account if I had less than the fee in cash. Not the posture a sympathetic institution should adopt. Of course they stand to lose millions in fees, as well as what, 50, 60, $100 million in assets they can claim to be under their roof. Costa Rica is a bit distant, but Equity is right here in 'Murica.

Unknown said...

I also had an IRA with Equity Trust. Years ago I was able to convince them to in effect make an early distribution of my account with a value of $1. That put a stop to the annual custodial fee.
TATF also changed the registration to me individually. That was years ago when they were still communicating with me.

I haven't checked this blog recently, does anyone have any recent info regarding Sherry's health?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I would just like to be able to let my mind put the investment to rest. On one side of the scenario scale, I see Sherry, unhealthy, unhappy, destitute, living with her kids and living out her very regretful life in hiding, hoping she never gets confronted by all the people that lost their hard-earned bucks. On the other end of the scale she is hanging out in Ga, living large, after cashing in on the real estate that Steve and her acquired, wearing mink, and gold jewelry. If the former, I can move on, if the latter, I feel severely duped, and am motivated to go after her. Somewhere in the middle--I don't know.
What I don't get is why we don't hear from her. She and Steve played the big, moral, bawanas while they were selling, I guess I think we should be able to get an apology...or at least an explanation.

Anonymous said...

I spoke with Equity trust two weeks ago and they were quick to tell me that they had lots of others in the same boat with the trees. They sent me a form to close out the account and said that they valued the trees at 0 and I owed nothing. I would like to join any lawsuit to recoupe some of the money lost.

Anonymous said...

I invested so when my son got out of college he would not have to worry about his student loans. Well that did not work out. Is this the end or is anyone still looking into this.Win some lose some. Life is the best roller coaster ride you will ever take.

Tim G. said...

I invested about 12K (10K is at Equity Trust in Roth account). I need to call them to see if I can can get my account devalued to $1 or close it out. I wonder if 60 minutes would do a story on this?

Anonymous said...

I would like to be added to the lawsuit. I really love the concept and am actually hoping I can get my trees one day. My trees should be 8-9 years old now.

suckered by trees said...

what law suit? In what country? Who has filed it? Why do they not contact other investors? I think the answer is that there is no actual law suit. In fact other than speculation here about fraud or not fraud I have seen no new info about the tax trouble they were in with the CR government, if the company is still functioning, if they are solvent. Or who to chase down for money. Or a way to find the status of any particular trees. I think the answer is that there is no actual law suit. If somebody finds out differently or hires a lawyer in CR to look into it, then I hope they post it here.

Tom said...

I do not want to parrot it, if you want to hire a lawyer to confirm do so, or just follow what Vernon has advised. Vernon and my high paid lawyer coincide: file the complain with the USPS get the record number, keep all your records, file the IRS form and include that document the complain number from the USPS, then take the loss in your taxes.
Sorry that it is what is it is. We also knew Steve and Sherry and conned us a very large amount, you cannot trust even those that they call you friends when money is involved, specially when they are comfortable running a con job aka a scam.

joasianek64 said...

I invested a lot in this company, some may say shame on me, and others might feel bad. When my husband passed away from cancer, I trusted that this company would eventually help me in the future. Well, reading some comments, I was dumb to believe that! And maybe I was! My husband passed on from cancer Dec 2009, and I invested in May of 2010, the sum was $47,676. A lot of money! like I said, I had lost my husband and was not in the right frame of mind. Anyway...complaining will not help now! I messed up by investing, not thinking as I should have! I am facing a dilemma now, that I have to fill out a fair Market Evaluation form and was told by by the New Direction IRA that I need proofs that this company no longer exists, to be able to claim $0 on the form and not be taxed by the IRA.
Can anyone tell who could help me a this point? Bad enough I lost all this money, but nowI am being told that I could be charged up to $150/hour (with minimum of one hour) by the New Direction IRA.
I am currently a student and don't have extra money to lose at this point. Losing a husband was and is still hard, going back to school in my ate 40's is hard, but now even harder, having to deal with people who have no compassion is even harder!
Any suggestion?
Thank you in advance.

suckered by trees said...

How do you know that is the right Sherry? Was Brunner her married name prior? Would she really keep that name? Via Google, I see a David Allison in St. Simon but not a Sherry. Does anybody know a blood hound lawyer who might want to look into the case on a contingent basis? I didn't lose enough money at stake to spear head this but some of you do. I would most likely go along with it. Con artists need to be put out of business permanently. There are two aspects to this. One is the idea that there was criminal fraud involved and I would say that the intent to defraud need not have been there from the beginning but could have been part of the deal after things started sliding sideways. But there appears to be plenty of evidence for both. This is criminal and the idea would be that we'd have to get the Feds to prosecute her for wire fraud. One of their legitimate jobs is protecting the public from criminals and to punish them. And then the other thing is whether there are any assets from which she could make restitution. It is a separate matter. BTW, I don't feel sorry for criminals who have had hard luck and had to end their scam. Lastly, if enough of us file a complete with the USPS perhaps they have somebody with nothing to do who will take an interest. Lastly, if you were Sherry Brunner would you be looking at this forum? Think about it.

Anonymous said...

This is the right Sherry Brunner Allison

Anonymous said...

So now all of you know where Sherry lives and can assemble together and find a professional who can litigate this in the US courts. I don't feel sorry for her.
It is not as if Sherry is living modestly but has the good life living well to do likely with dollars that were sent to her and Steve by trusting folks that believed this was a legit investment. Why don't you all gather and begin to get justice?

Anonymous said...

Indeed she does!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This was an scam from the beginning!!

Anonymous said...

She is living off our money......too bad she gets away with this scam

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately in our USA crime pays! Maybe we should begin goat farm and sell them with future projections of 9000 after 23 years.We can say it's going to happen because we are Cristian and trust us you'll be rich!
When we rip em all off we don't need to worry bout a thing cause Uncle Sam doesn't see these scams as a problem . Anyway where would they put Sherry? Our jails our full. Let's give her a call and see what she thinks. I hope she falls of the face of the earth.

Anonymous said...

Gather and fight. You all deserve a trial.
Get all your investment back with interest!

Anonymous said...

We should call her every day...she should not get off free just to live her happy life...She is such a fine up standing Christian phony.....

Anonymous said...

Marry a new guy,change your last name, move to an island and live off our money...That will work !!!!!!

EJK said...

My understanding is that individuals are liable in American courts for fraud committed abroad. Sherry was partner to Steve in the TATF debacle. Now she is located and within legal reach of aggrieved and deceived investors.. If she owed me thousands of dollars I would at the very least have my lawyer write to her Georgia address.

Anonymous said...

I plan to hire a PI.....I want to see her face

Anonymous said...

She is a fraud .......I hope we can get her...

Anonymous said...

Two years, eleven months and seven days. That is the last time that Sherry wrote to the TAFT tree owners. In that email, Sherry stated “I am continuing to meet with trusted advisors and expect to issue a more complete report in the upcoming weeks which I expect will contain some very favorable news.” I guess Sherry is the only one that received that “very favorable news”, for it allowed her to retire on an island in Georgia. Apparently she forgot about the 3,000 other tree owners that allowed her to enjoy her current lifestyle. In that last letter of September 17, 2012, Sherry went on to say, “I am working full time with our dedicated team to protect the trees and the tree owners’ interests.” Sherry, please explain how you do that from an island in Georgia rather than in Costa Rica where our trees, and I would think your “trusted advisors” are located? Also, please explain what happened to the 3,000,000 trees that you and Steve bragged about planting and the 13,500 acres you said you owned? Did they disappear? I find It very strange how God blesses such a Good Christian like you! God works is mysterious ways, for it is our money that God blessed you with.

Please let us know who your “trusted advisors” are. Does the name Bernie Madoff come to mind? You would make good roommates, God willing! One last questions? Please let us know when we can expect that “more complete report” you wrote about two years, eleven months and seven days ago? Since you don’t want to be bothered reading our emails, perhaps you can have one of your “trusted advisors” answer my questions.

Anonymous said...

How can Sherry just walk away from investors that totally believed in her in the beginning?
She abandoned good people that wanted Steve,Sherry, TATF to prosper.we sent them a fortune so they could buy more land and protect nature what a great investment. I am so pissed I have never known anyone in my life to be so irresponsible maybe wicked.
Sherry Shame on you
You are a disgrace ...
Justice for all.

Anonymous said...

There is a special place for fine Christian ladies like Miss Sherry..and it is not heaven

Anonymous said...

I think we should band together,,,,she should not be allowed to live and live high off our money....she knows she is guilty that is why she was so hot to get married and change her last name and hide out...

Anonymous said...

Sherry you are a scam artist......

Anonymous said...

Don't ever let Sherry play the victim..She is in this up to her neck...She was a part of the master scam..shame on you Sherry...I know you are laughing all the way to the bank..that is what people like you do

pllc_teach said...

Dear Buyer,

My name Sam from Laos, We are owner of huge hectares of Teak farm in North and Center of Laos therefore we can provide any required quantity.

Nice to know your!, Please find my teak logs detail below

1)Description: TEAK ROUND LOGS (Tectona Grandis)
2)Origin: LAO PDR
3)Quantity, Sizes, Price per CBM FOB : Hai Phong Port, Vietnam

60-69 CM @ USD 560.00/CBM
70-79 CM @ USD 590.00/CBM
80-89 CM @ USD 620.00/CBM
90-99 CM @ USD 670.00/CBM
100-109 CM @ USD 730.00/CBM
110-120 CM @ USD 760.00/CBM

4)Total min order : 150 CBM/Time + - 5%
5)Allowances: 5 cm on Girth and 10 cm on Length
6)Scaling Method: Girth x Girth x Length/12.56
7) Port of Loading: Hai Phong, Vietnam

Example, with teak log girth 105 CM Length 220 CM, will calculate like = (1*1*2)/12.56 = 0.1592 CBM

Mean girth size 1 Meter length 2.20 Meter, 0.1592 CBM/Piece

Other terms and conditions:-
1) This proforma is to be accepted on or After that this mail 15 day.
2) Confirmed, irrevocable T/T payable 100% (Deposit 50% and After loading 50%) at sign Contract at Laos
3) -Original Bill of Lading
-Original Packing List
-Original Phyto Sanitary Certificate
-Original Certificate of Origin

Also I have to do teak wood or sawn any size from 3 inch - 10 inch as well
Rate final offer to order!!!!!
FOB : Hai Phong Port, Vietnam
-Size 3"-4" x 3"-4" = 760 USD/CBM
-Size 5"-6" x 5"-6" = 780 USD/CBM
-Size 7"-8" x 7"-8" = 820 USD/CBM
-Size 9"-10" x 9"-10" = 850 USD/CBM

With any questions please let me know.

Please contact me at santipot(at)gmail(dot)com or Viber & Whatsapp with number +6686-999-4177


Anonymous said...

I am interested in settling with Sherry Not buying new trees!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

To get your money back contact postal service fraud department. Provide TATF cashed checks ect.
They do an investigation.
Notify Sherry for complete refund.
If no refund go file court case. Don't need a lawyer.
Let the Judge decide the facts-You will likely be granted a refund with court cost 0.

God Bless America Brother!

Anonymous said...

Investment Fraud (Ponzi Schemes)
Even smart investors can fall for a well-orchestrated Ponzi scheme. That’s because it offers high rates of return practically impossible to match in any marketplace—for good reason. A Ponzi scheme relies on money from investors, rather than from actual profit, to pay the promised returns, dooming it to failure. The earnings—if there are any—will be less than the payments, and the scheme eventually will collapse.

Named for Charles Ponzi, a Boston man convicted in 1920 for duping about 30,000 Americans of an estimated $10 million, the scam works just as well today as it did back then. Ponzi schemes are usually marketed by slick fraudsters who surround themselves with the trappings of legitimacy—nice office space, a receptionist, investment counselors, and professionally designed color brochures describing the investment. Bernie Madoff was hardly an original thinker.

There’s only one thing you can count on in a Ponzi scheme: The money you invest will be money lost. You may not even receive the promised interest—and if you do, it’s usually paid late.

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you’re probably dealing with a swindler:

Does the promoter make it sound as if you can't lose?
Are you promised an unusually high rate of return or interest payment on your capital?
Are you pressured to make a quick decision because new investment units “are selling fast?”

Does the promoter have prior successful experience in the investment area being promoted?
Protect yourself. Be suspicious of any deal that promises a fantastic return with little risk. Know whom you are dealing with. Check the company’s reputation with your local Better Business Bureau, or state Attorney General’s Office. Protect your retirement nest egg.

If you believe you’ve been defrauded in any scheme that involves the U.S. Mail, report the incident to Postal Inspectors online or by calling 1-877-876-2455.


Anonymous said...

You all were defrauded by a ponzi scheme !
Go to the postal service!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for some sound advice!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Sure and I will get to see her face in court that alone is worth it.
God Bless ya!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hear she is buying new property<<<<<<wonder where did she get the money??? what scam artist....

Anonymous said...

I heard that too!!!!! makes me sick

Anonymous said...


I have read many of the comments over the years on this blog and thought I would provide some commentary. In July of 2010 I was looking to buy teak to build some items in my workshop. I came across TATF and shifted to consideration to invest 50k. I wrote and received responses from an Andres Fonseca at TATF. I exchanged several emails even planning to visit. All emails were promptly responded to and the prospect of visiting the TATF operation was received somewhat cordially. HOWEVER, all inquiries into legal recourse, insurance, questions about flooding etc were answered with JARGON and PIVOTING. So i did not invest ....I am very sorry to hear of the stories and losses by many to these two liars scammers etc---maybe more persons than the couple. One or more persons on this blog suggested that it was the investors risk, Sherry is battling cancer and such BS. In my opinion, FIND the FACTS about where Sherry is an island ? etc and START a systematic and continuous set of phone calls face to face encounters, lawsuits (all separate) and hit Sherry HARD. It is apparent Sherry has prevailed from her fight with cancer and is enjoying a life of luxury......MAKE it UNCOMFORTABLE for her be an annoyance etc. She is no longer in OHIO right? So in the place she is where laws are different START THE CAMPAIGN make it hurt, make her change her number, confront, take her pics (in public) write articles in the local paper take the battle to her. My dog in the fight? I almost lost 50K but am more sorry to hear of many good ppl hurt by these malefactors. How can I help? TAKE EM DOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CHRIS

Gary said...

I've followed this blog with interest. I too have lost a significant amount of money by investing in TAFT. All correspondence that I have sent have gone unanswered. The last time I visited this blog was over a year ago, and nothing seems to have changed in regards to TAFT. No bankruptcy declaration, no verified class-action lawsuit—nothing.

That I will ever recover any of my investment is a foregone conclusion. Now, all I only want is to be able to declare my investment a total loss on my Federal taxes. But without an official bankruptcy ruling or declaration, it would appear that it's not possible. Since all of my paperwork is written in English, then my claims are worthless in Costa Rica. Please correct me if i'm wrong.
All of my purchases were via a credit card, and I have records showing such. What legal recourse do I have to declare my investment a total loss on my Federal taxes, since I paid with a credit card? Any help or information would be greatly appreciated



Anonymous said...

Maybe we should contact America's Most Wanted....She has at least been located living on Saint Simons Island,Ga

Anonymous said...

Sherry, You are disgusting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Steve gj said...

I just spoke with Equity Trust and they told me to fill out a Fair Mkt Valuation form and send it in with any supporting documentation. They said that a copy of this blog would count.

anonymous said...

Many of us have lost our money. But some assumptions are just not correct. One I did not invest in a Costa Rican Company as far as I understood. They were US citizens and we sent our money to a US account. I thought they were Florida based. it was US based as far as I understood. Of course wether it was even a formal company at all is now in question. The projections were high but they understood the security laws and kept them legal. Personally I didn't care what the return was as long as it was above the long term bond rate. My wife and I chose this as a our environmentally responsible investment. We of course have other investments and didn't put all our eggs in one basket. That being said we lost a substantial amount of money. Sham on me. We are busy people but anyone who is mounting or wants to mount an effort to obtain some justice etc we will be following these posts and will help.

As a further note I was completely surprised when years ago I realized TAFT was a fraud. Late 90's. I found no real way to warn people or to report it. I did report it to several agencies but didn't receive so much as an email back. These blogs if placed higher in google searchers would have saved people money years ago.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

Some of you are supplying good information here. This is the first time, for instance, that I've learned that the funds were sent to a US bank account.

Although I'm not an investor, I did send a complaint to the SEC before. No response, and perhaps they thought it was out of their jurisdiction. If the funds never left the U.S., though, and Sherry is now in the U.S., maybe I can make a more persuasive case. Details help. Right now my understanding is that there are more than 3000 TATF investors who've collectively lost about $100 million. Does that sound right?

Anonymous said...

It looks like there are no tree locations that can be identified without proper records, and that this was a fraud based upon the simple fact that apparently even the earlier investors never received any money at all, as promised.

Many are left with useless certificates, as I am as well.

I think there are probably trees someplace, but they are hidden from our view, and possibly being sold under the table to support members of the family still trying to capitalize on "Dad's Company".

T.A.T.F was a great dream for me, and I put a lot of work into learning and participating in the 2004 - 2007 era, and I am having trouble "letting go" of the "idea". The basic problems include the $ 1 million plus owed by the founders to the CR Government for their unpaid social security system payments, as well as the death of the founder. It is reported that the family is no longer allowed to "operate" CR until their bill is paid, no cutting and so on.

It is very unlikely therefore the enterprise will "rise from the ashes". The money is gone or it is hidden.

Meanwhile, if reports are correct Sherry Brunner still controls land that investor money was used to purchase, and apparently lives on selling it piecemeal.

If you want to close the books on T.A.T.F. I am collecting certificates to add to my own and staying in touch with it more or less as a hobby. If you want to close the investment and move on, I may be able offer a small payment for certificates, as I am collecting them and still trying to figure out what if anything can ever be done with them. Since they are basically worthless at this time, I cannot offer you much money, a dollar or two per certificate (regardless of tree count), but you can contact me with what you have to sell if you wish, and I will respond, Rick Harvey NH USA researchqig@gmail.com

suckered by trees said...

each person should file their own wire fraud report and report here that they have done so. then call their Congressman asking for help or the Congressperson where Sherry is believed to reside. Otherwise, some people who have lost the most might agree to investigate with a lawyer and then ask the rest of us to contribute proportionately to the retainage after seeing an initial report. If the certificates were not legally negotiable in the first place, they are not legally transferable now. If I understand you correctly, your offer is untenable and frankly smells just as bad as the initial deal. Only this time it is not in hindsight. Thanks but no thanks.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

Can anyone supply a prospectus or private placement memorandum for their TATF investment? This is the easiest place to start looking for violations of U.S. securities laws. What bank did the Brunners use to collect your money? With the right information, I will try another time to attract the interest of the SEC.

Anonymous said...

I'll keep reading the blog. Good luck with this, I know a lot of folks would be very grateful for some sort of resolution.

Thank you


Anonymous said...

Looking at the "No Thanks" comment above by "suckered by trees", I can see and understand the point he makes, and on reflection I think he's right.

Besides which, if Sherry sold these properties she bought at 10 cents on the dollar, now "recovery" means finding out where all that land is. If it was a confidence scam from the beginning, it was a very beautiful example of craftsmanship of its type! Considering all the effort and details that were presented, the newsletters, dream spinning, the tours conducted etc., no one could or should feel at all ashamed at having been taken in. Suffice to say, Costa Rica isn’t the States, and as my Dad used to say "everyone has to make a living, and have a place to hang his hat".

I do not really believe it was originally set up as a scam, however. I still don't. I think that maybe Steve and Sherry started with a good heart.

Among the ingredients to the outcome was the advent of the “easy reach” T.A.T.F. S.A. had to so many prospective buyers made possible by a rapidly growing internet in the early nineties. Included was the basic trusting nature of "good" people in America. And also this was a time when the pie-in-the-sky massive "save the planet" social meme (which is really the BIGGER scam in my view) emerged so strongly.

This event then "evolved" into something not so good for those who hoped to make a “positive” difference that supported the people in Costa Rica, and the planet as well. It grew so fast, and so large, it may have just grown beyond the Brunner's ability to control it.

And who knew, really, about Costa Rican “law”? Steve Brunner did, of course, and every investor “assumed” he did, and that he was an honest soul, which I think he probably was.

To be generous, his plan was pretty brilliant: buy land with money from tree sales, then deliver the tree profits to the investors, and finally voila’, you have your land free and clear after the harvest. Not bad thinking really. I admired that thinking. Too bad (for us!) the plan was not “real” by the end. It is still good thinking, and perhaps an honest corporation like Teak-Holz AG (Vienna) will succeed where T.A.T.F. S.A. failed. * (They sell shares and bonds by the way.)

The “safest” way now to proceed is continue to lend support to the idea of a claimant group if one ever emerges. Only after some sort of higher level authority, like the SEC and/or the Postal Service can get involved responsibly is there any hope for recovery of anything real. It is far too large a “problem” for any one person to get anything done effectively. It needs the “official” investigation of the facts, or nothing.

We plan to just hold our certificates now, fully appreciating they are basically worthless, together with the cancelled checks, and the contract forms that went through the mails.

Lesson learned: I came back from our visit to the trees with a single leaf from a tree. I now have it framed, and I see it every so often to remind me to follow President Regan’s sage advice always: “Trust, BUT verify!”

Between 2006 and 2007 we bought 500 trees in good faith and that is our stake in this. So, we will just "stay tuned" I do not think anyone has much choice now anyway. In a way, if it is true that it was a scam, or became one along the way, I feel sorry for the lives the Brunner family must be living. It must not be an "easy way" for them to live! We are all “learning” from this, all of us are.

I always expect the best these days, and will pray for the eventual just resolution of the matter. (I am not holding my breath!) I guess that makes me the “naive sucker”, the “mark”, the “rube”. But I personally don't want a life lived in "darkness" (been there, done that, and it "sucks"). So we are content to let it play out in God's hands now as it will.

Rick Harvey (72 years old, yes)

suckered by trees said...

Dear Mr. Martin, I have a certificate dated May 2005, evidence of a check written to Equity Trust in April 2005 (FBO and IRA). I could get a copy of that canceled check from the bank I assume but it was not available on line so we'd have to call and make a special request. No hard copy of a prospectus. We used their website at that time. I have an old marketing email from 2008 trying to sell more trees, all the previous sales pitches must have been deleted. I have emails from January 2006 showing disgruntled employees, dissatisfied customers, links to Costa Rican government sites about money owed. I also have emails dated in 2013 I sent and one I received back from TATF (did not contain answers) requesting info so that I could get Equity to devalue the investment. If this stuff is useful in addition to stuff you get from others, please let me know. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for some sound advice....we all need to do what we can do. I find it appaling Sherry is living off our money

jc said...

Does anyone actually believe that Steve died? My first thought when I heard that, and then that Sherry was also ill with cancer, was that I had definitely been scammed.

Unknown said...

Sorry to hear that. It has been a number of years since I ran into Steve at a Los Vegas convention. The idea seemed most attractive at the time and I felt that the couple were sincere in their efforts. It was the management and ownership models that stopped me from investing. I couldn't see any sort of reasonable 'succession' plan for management [very vaguely explained ] and I couldn't see any security where one 'owned' the trees, but not the land underneath them. Frankly, though I don't think that they originally intended so, it either was, or turned into a 'Ponzi' scheme that would eventually collapse. Being an American and investing in a Central American banana republic country did not add much to the scene, either. What pursuable 'rights', really, does one have here?

What a great thought it was, though! It could/should have been a great IRA asset to leave to one' grand kids. There's a lesson here, but I don't know how one puts the proper 'boundaries' around such decision making. What a shame..............

Anonymous said...

Sherry is alive and well living the good life.....check it out Saint Simons Isl Ga

John Kuhnle said...

As a result of having read posts on this forum early 2015, I contacted Equity Trust on February 9, 2015 regarding the custodial charge they had sent me. After explaining my concerns regarding TATF the customer service agent spoke with her supervisor and told me that Equity Trust had just become aware of "concerns" and as a result waived my custodial fee.
A few days ago I received a bill from Equity Trust for 2016 custodial fee. I called them and spoke with customer service and recounted last years conversation. This years agent claimed that they had clients who maintained that the tree accounts they were holding had value and that I was subject to the custodial fee.
I requested some evidence to that effect but they would not provide that. I asked for a name and contact number in their legal department (surely since most investors were steered to Equity Trust by TATF they should be aware of something). Equity would not provide a contact name or number in their legal department. I requested a call back from ET's legal department and have not received a call. I will now have to write to them (registered mail) and hope for some enlightenment.
My investment in TATF was paid through a transfer from a 401K I had with a former employer.
At this point I too would like to be able to write this investment down to avoid further custodial fees.
I was shocked to see that Steve Brunner practiced real estate law in the same town that Equity was located in. World is rife with coincidence!!
if anyone has any news, please post. johkuh@aent.com

Kevin Kurtz said...

I closed my account with Equity Trust three or four years ago. Several other people have done the same. They are well aware of the situation with TAFT. Keep calling and writing them until you get satisfaction.

anonymous said...

Vernon thanks for making the effort. Sorry to hear the total is this high but I think you are close. As I am mentioned early I will help if I can. I think I have a folder in the attic with a lot of info from way back. So let me know if you want me to drag it out.

Anonymous said...

Sources say that she was born in Ohio with birth name of Wyatt and is supposedly healthy, married to david Allison. living on Demerey Road at St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Dawne said...

I have not posted in 2 years but just caught up reading. I wrote a check $14,012.25 in early 2004 and have 2 certificates. I"ve emailed Vernon and all that have posted their email addresses in this blog. Please email me to be included on that at dawnevrabel@gmail.com. If Sherry is on US territory and Vernon is looking into SEC again and this Equity Trust is on US territory and related, I think we all need to be aware of something potentially recoverable?
Thank you Vernon for your continued attention and help.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

Considering that this fraud is still unresolved, let me suggest that those of you who have filed criminal or civil complaints against TATF or the Brunners send a copy of your complaint to me. If I have enough of these complaints, perhaps federal authorities will be more likely to take action.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to warn others, when you post your contact info please be wary if anyone contacts you and asks you to pay $ for help with TATF/Sherry Brunner or asks you to send them any information that may put you at risk for identity theft or worse. Unfortunately, if you post that you were a victim (seeking sympathy from others by saying what you suffered), you attract false helpers who will further use you. By the way I do NOT mean Mr. Martin! Just be safe, folks! Fool you only once, ok?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to have found this blog regarding TATF; my husband and I made a rather large investment with them in the early 2000's but have received nothing and no longer have communication with them. We visited the farms in 2005 and took the horseback ride to "visit" our trees. Mr. Martin, please consider us interested participants in doing whatever we can to help ourselves, and other investors, recover our investments! My email address is Shellymb68@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone.
I am Costa Rican and I worked for Steve and Sherry in 2007. I have been reading all your comments. I feel so offended as you all. Because I lost money.
They defrauded many Costa Rican workers and I belong to that group of workers.

What I find it funny that is normal to read in your comments that because of the death of Steve the company can not continue.
How can it be true If sherry was responsible / manager of TATF. Steve participated in construction and furniture desing only.
When I left the company for its constant payment defaults Steve was alive.
The Brunners had the habit of not paying their debts since.
What really bothers me is that a couple of foreigners dirtied the name of our country. The Ticos are not thieves.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I bought trees in 2005. We paid by sending credit card information to a post office box in Miami. My understanding was that it was forwarded to CR and there was no bank account in the US. I know it wasn't deposited in the US because we had to pay conversion fees.

Madashell said...

This has been the most informative blog I have seen in last 5 years of awaiting around for some answers. I had over 30k invested with the Brunners and I did get a couple of thinning payments, but in the form of additional trees. I used Equity Trust and found them to be lacking answers. I'm sure they are trying to protect themselves from lawsuits regarding possible collusion with Steve when they agreed to accept their self directed "assets" into buyers IRAs. I have not paid them a cent in IRA management fees in the last few years since the crap hit the fan even though I have not sought out the devaluation of my tree assets yet. If anyone can post any updated information on SEC, Postal, or Federal outcomes, it would be appreciated. Has anyone tried to post liens on the properties, including the Georgia estate?

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

Here's what I know:

The person you are all looking for is named Sharon K. Brunner, age 65. I can find no address for her, and there is no record of her living on St. Simons Island. I have her social security number, but I can only release it to law enforcement personnel, so if you are working with law enforcement, have them call me.

If you are working with an attorney or private investigators, her LexID number is 000309040229.

I filed two complaints against her to the SEC. The most recent complaint's reference number is TCR1456511452316. I have received no response. I contend that she broke U.S. securities laws by making these tree investments into IRA products, and that the USA has jurisdiction because she is a US citizen that used a Miami post office box to start this scheme which has defrauded about 3000 U.S. citizens.

Anonymous said...

She is married to David Allison , She lives on Demere Road, Saint Simons Island Georgia

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a dead issue, but apparently not. 1,000 1996 Teak trees, did the horseback ride and so forth. Nice trip. Complete loss. Panamanian bank. If this ever comes to anything I would love to be a part of it. Will keep checking back from time to time. DR

Anonymous said...

Why Oh Why is she not in JAIL

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

While I agree that she might deserve jail time, the more pressing matter is for investors to retrieve their lost funds. That is why I referred the complaint to the SEC. They're good at locating bank accounts and freezing them on behalf of investors.

I have asked before if any one of the 3000 investors has filed a criminal complaint, but I have had no responses. I also do not know of her whereabouts, and I suspect that "Anonymous" who keeps on telling us that she lives on St. Simons Island with David Allison might be spreading disinformation on her behalf. As a CFE I have access to extra information resources, but there is no evidence to be found of her at that location or connected with that man.

TotalHealthTopics said...

I agree, Vernon. I would like to be included in any litigation to recover the $20,000 I invested. Sounds like she is still living on our money. I have not filed a criminal complaint as I thought all the assets were out of reach in Costa Rica. Mr. Martin, please keep us posted. I just wanted to make you aware of me as an investor. Is there an email address I can use to send you my name and email/contact info?
Thanks for all your insights and help,
Kellie Thommes

Bruce Behringer said...

I'm an investor too! I have an IRA in Equity Trust, all I want to do is to close out my account. I have gone around and around about this with them, and last year I didn't have to pay a fee. This year they sent me a fee notice of $150.00. To close out it will cost me $225.00. In order to get out I have to submit a Fair Market valuation form that no one will be an third party valuator. They just won't touch it. I have no documentation to give them to show that this is worthless investment. The same go with the Uncollectible Unsecured note form. Can someone help me!!!
E-mail: behrinba@yahoo.com

Unknown said...

I'm another tree investor wondering about the possibility of recovering at least a portion of my investment, or taking the loss on my taxes. I think I have documentation of all my transactions, made between 1993 and 2000. Most of my thinning income was reinvested in trees. Thank you Mr Martin for pursuing the TATF situation. I am interested in any additional information anyone has.

Unknown said...

hello....I am an International loan lender, I give out loans at 1% interest rate, I give out loans ranging from Home loans Auto Loans Car loans Mortgage loans Business Loans International Loans Personal Loans.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

I would like to remind all investors to inform this forum if you have documented any civil or criminal complaint against TATF or Sharon K. Brunner; tell us the court and the case number.

Because I was not an investor, I am limited in my ability to persuade the SEC or FBI to investigate the situation, particularly if no one has filed a complaint. Help me help you. Surely, out of 3000 investors, someone must have filed a complaint.

Meanwhile, I have recently received this news from an expat who lives full time near the TATF farms:

"In El Capital and Santo Domingo the teak was cut. San Cristobal was not planted in teak but in other wood. San Cristobal is protected by MINAE and the acuaduct is located there.
Because of the fall of TATF and the debt owed to the Caja and the death of Steve Brunner, the locals began to move in and take over the land about 6 months ago. A Costa Rican lawyer with 6 months experience, Wagner Martinez Rodriguez (carnet 26545) is advising the people in this respect. The people are paying him in hopes to obtain the land. Wagner has possession of various parcelas in each town, the most being 20 parcelas (each about 6 hectares) in San Cristobal. The people are chopping the land and putting up small ranchos on the lawyer's advice.
Many people have taken possession of parcelas and have sold them to other people turning over a quick profit. There is fighting and bitterness among the people over the land."

My latest post on this blog this last week also sheds some light on the system of land rights in Costa Rica.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

Not wanting to nag you all, but I have some data that might easily locate Sherry Brunner if law enforcement had the mandate. If one of you has filed a civil or criminal complaint against her or TATF, that could light the fuse to bring her in.
I've heard your complaints, but I need to know what steps each of you has taken.

RobD said...

This is my first entry into this blog...thank you everyone for your contributions. I have a number of documents from TATF and will review them ASAP to see if any would be valuable. I too own trees directly and via IRA Custodial accounts with Equity Trust. I spent many hours attempting to track down Steve and/or Sherry, but that was many years ago. Equity Trust was very unhelpful years ago as well. Anyway, I hope I can contribute to this group in a meaningful way soon. Please reach out to me with any specific questions or updates.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

I have made a complaint about TATF and Sharon K. Brunner to the SEC, but I am not an investor or victim, so I have not heard from them. If any one of you want to make a complaint, here is the web site:


Susan Brierley said...

First time poster here- My husband and I have basically given on getting any refund on the 30K+ we invested. We have not filed a complaint with SEC and currently we are not at the location where our paper work so we would not be able to look into it until early June. We just received a notice from Equity trust that we need to update our credit card information. So we probably have been on autopay the past few years and I didn't notice it. If we discontinue our account with them does that mean if Sherry was ever held to account that we have weakened our position? Thanks, Susan

Anonymous said...

If you are trying to determine if the Sherry Allison on St. Simons Island is the person you are looking for, below is a link to a picture of her that was publicly posted by a local magazine. See picture 6.


Anonymous said...

That's her!

TotalHealthTopics said...


Could this be her?

Sherry K. Brunner
Age 66
Current Address
9518 Tranquil Park
San Antonio, TX 78254

Kellie Thommes

TotalHealthTopics said...

Does anyone know the name of their sons?

Found this on https://www.myrelatives.com/address-lookup/mn/virginia/0-9/5th/408

Joshua Henry Brunner Age: 43
Previous Addresses:
415 Front St Columbus Oh
159 Chase Rd Columbus Oh
5030 Arrington Ln Columbus Oh
1477 Royal Gold Dr Columbus Oh
16 more Possible Addresses
Possible Relatives
Ann Kathleen Laugherty
Mary Elizabeth Brun
Sherry K Brunner
Stephen C Brunner
5 more Possible Relatives
Date of Residency

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...


TotalHealthTopics said...

That's a long list....

Does anyone know of any successful (or otherwise) lawsuits or recovery of funds? Are the Brunner sons involved/liable?
An recent news on this situation? I've been looking in various forums and Google searches and have found little to go on.
Kellie Thommes

Dr Raymond said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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Unknown said...

To those who have taken a tax loss, how did you put a value on the loss?

Richard said...

I am to the age when I have to start to take a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) based on the Fair Market Valuation of my IRA accounts. I received notice of these values for Equity Trust Company so I end having to withdraw cash form other accounts and pay income tax based on the value they claim. I have tried to get them to drop the value to zero because there in really no value to the Tropical American Tree Farms. Equity Trust just give me the run around and I see no way I can prove the investment has no value. At this point I feel they are complicit in this scam and are making money just by going along with making it difficult for use to show the TATF trees have no value.

Unknown said...

I also had trees in an IRA with Equity Trust. They kept charging me a yearly fee even though they were well aware that the trees were worthless. Several years ago I tried to close my account and they said they would not close it unless I paid them. I then told them that I was going to contact the Secretary of State for the state of Ohio and they ended up closing my account and I did not have to pay anything. For years they have been well aware that the trees are worthless. Just don't give into them. I plan to write off my investment this year.

suckered by trees said...

I got Equity to devalue mine to $1 by providing them a lot of data including this blog which proved they had to know about the fraud but then they wanted to charge me for statements. I told them I didn't want statements and that I had tried repeatedly to get them via email to no avail. I won that battle. Then I tried to get them to close the account and they wanted money for that which I refused to pay. They got a little threatening with me and I got a little threatening back. We arrived at a standoff. One day they will be back at me I am sure. It is good to know somebody got their account closed without having to pay. If I had enough money lost that made it worth my personally chasing after Sherry Brunner, I'd try to name Equity in the charges also. I'll bet there is plenty of scandal associated with these self directed IRAs and other scams.

Anonymous said...

Sherry is married to David Allison. And has been for the last three years. Their mailing address on St Simons Island is 1605 Demere Road, St Simons IsLand GA 31522 However, the county chipped wood from the hurricane in back of the house and it is not habitual. So when they are on the island they are renting somewhere. They also have a house in Lakemont GA. That address is 10230 Old 441S, Lakemont GA 30552-2905. I believe this address is where they are spending all their time as the house in St Simons looks like it has been deserted.

I know this because i used to be a friend of David’s and saw him a couple of months ago on St Simons.

LM in AZ said...

For those investors with IRAs registered with Equity Trust: I spoke with an ETC representative this afternoon, and was given the following information.

At least some of the accounts with assets invested in TATF are currently in litigation so those assets are essentially frozen and no changes in valuation can be made until the litigation is resolved. Also, no distributions can be made or reported to the IRS. Once the litigation is resolved, investors can expect to be notified of the results.

Such accounts are also on a “Do Not Bill” list which explains why they are no longer being charged custodial fees. If you are in discussion with ETC re your TATF investments, you might ask if your account is on that list.

The ETC representative was very friendly and helpful.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone familiar with the company Precious Timber, who is selling timber land in Central America? Vernon, have you heard of them? Thank you.

Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

I have not heard of Precious Timber. Their web site, which appears to have been created in 2015, seems loaded with formulaic marketing hype, including photos of happy American families and a college graduation, and the standard testimonials from people with no last names, testifying to how honest and trustworthy the executives are, but none claiming to have made money. All the testimonials have perfect spelling and grammar, too, causing me to doubt their authenticity. Why are there no resumes for the chief executives? Do they have any sort of track record?

One of my previous posts on Costa Rica included some of the common marketing gimmicks: https://www.internationalappraiser.com/2012/07/appraisals-of-view-land-in-costa-rica.html

This company is domiciled in Nicaragua, so if your investments go wrong, are you prepared to sue them in Nicaraguan courts?

Kevin Kurtz said...

I wrote off my entire investment in TAFT in 2017. However, some of my trees were in an IRA. You cannot write off an investment in an IRA. The reasoning is that the IRA was purchased with pre tax money and therefore you cannot write off the losses on your tax return.

Kevin Kurtz said...

My wife and I were in Costa Rica earlier this year and drove by Steve and Sherry's original farm outside of Dominical. We noticed a For Sale sign in front of the property and were surprised because we were under the impression that none of the trees or property could be sold because of pending lawsuits and unpaid Government debts. I contacted a local real estate agent and asked him to call the number and get any information he could. He got back to me and said that there had been a mortgage on the property and that the bank holding the mortgage has obtained legal title to the property. There is a total of 1,154 acres and the bank is asking $1,808,211 US for the property. That works out to $1,567 per acre. The listing goes on to say that the property is "free and clear of all liens". It also says that the "property includes an inventory of trees of different species of precious woods including Coral Oak, Rum Manglillo, Cristobal, Guayagan Acacia, Teak and Guapinol". There are also four or five houses on the property. We also heard that most, if not all the farms, have been taken over by squatters. A young attorney from San Jose is teaching the squatters how to obtain legal title to the property and many, if not all the trees are being harvested. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we also lost a substantial amount of money in this investment. As I stated in my previous post, we wrote off our entire investment on our 2017 tax return.

Kevin Kurtz kkurtz@aol.com

Kevin Kurtz said...

Sorry, on my last post I listed my email address as kkurtz@aol.com. The correct email address is kkurtz20@aol.com.

Unknown said...

We also lost over $10K investing in TATF. We would like help on what to do now & we will gladly join in on a law suit against Sherry if possible as well. Please contact us @: kerryandray@gmail.com

Unknown said...

Thank you Kevin for your update. I also had trees on three of the early farms.

I am trying to close my roth IRA with equity trust. I just received a new bill for 2019. I called them in 2017, 2018 to explain that the account was worth nothing.

I too got the run around about having to provide documentation that the investment was worthless. I will call them again to see if they can devalue my account and put me on the do not bill list. While only 3,500 was in my roth, overall I have about 20,000 invested in TAFT from the 1990's. I would also join a lawsuit. I am located in Lamoine, Maine. Kathleen

Here is my last email from Sherry, along with a plea for an update so I could close out my IRA.

TAFT Update for 2015 yet? I want to close my IRA if my trees are gone. This costs me money every year. Please answer
affordableacadia at gmail.com

Thu, May 14, 2015, 1:12 AM

to trees
Hello Folks, I'm faced with paying another set of fees for an IRA I have. However, if my trees are lost, I'd like to dissolve that IRA. Any update? It's been almost three years since the last email. We are still here, are you?

Thanks Kathleen
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Tropical American Tree Farms
Date: Fri, Sep 14, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Subject: September Tree Owner Update
To: affordableacadia@gmail.com
Dear Tree Owners,
Thank you so very much for your kind outpouring of good wishes and support after my last tree owner update.
As I wrote previously, Steve was the visionary for our business and with the loss of Steve, we are making every effort to shore up and reorganize the company as quickly as possible with limited funds and a reduced staff.
I am writing with what new has happened since my previous update:

I am continuing to meet with trusted advisors and expect to issue a more complete report in the upcoming weeks which I expect will contain some very favorable news.
Thank each and every one of you for your continued support.
Warm regards,
Sherry Brunner
Tropical American Tree Farms

Kevin Kurtz said...

Hello Kathleen. Sorry for your continued troubles with Equity Trust. For years, Equity Trust has been well aware that there is no value to the tree investment. For those who don't fight back, they continue to bill them. For those who do fight back, they will stop billing them. My advice would be to send them one more notice stating that as they well know, the TATF investment is worthless and to stop sending you bills. Let them know that this will be the last letter that you send them and that if they don't stop harassing you, your next letter will be to the Attorney General for the State of Ohio.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Good Luck,

Unknown said...

I just received a notice from equity trust. It says I will automatically be entered into an arbitration agreement unless I notify them By March 31, 2019 that I opt out.

The link to the agreement is www.trustetc.com/jacobs-complaint Existing customers have a one-time right to opt out by completing and submitting the form available at www.trustetc.com/opt-out/arbitration.

I am glad I opened the envelope, often I just let the equity trust documents sit on my desk for weeks.

Kathleen klybarz@gmail.com

John Kuhnle said...

Thanks for posting this. i did not receive any notice from Equity Trust regarding the Jacobs complaint or the ability to opt out of arbitration.

LM in AZ said...

I reviewed my 12/31/2018 quarterly statement from Equity Trust today. It contained the arbitration notice and a link to the complaint. I downloaded the 181-page pdf file and read the first few pages. I also did a search for TATF and Tropical, with no hits. So the TATF scam may not be addressed in this specific complaint. I do not know if opting out of the arbitration covers any other such complaints that may be filed.

On a related issue, does anyone know what documentation might be useful when explaining to the IRS why one did not take a required minimum distribution from their TATF Equity Trust account? ET will be reporting the current balance in the account, which in my case is the cost of acquisition.

An attempt last year to get the FMV changed to $1 or $0 was rejected because I could not provide proof that the company no longer existed. They then reassured me that the TATF assets were frozen anyway, and the FMV could only be changed if/when the litigation showed they had no value.

So, I cannot request a minimum distribution because the assets are frozen. Of course, there is nothing there in reality to distribute, just the paper valuation. But ET will not provide any documentation to show that because the assets are in litigation. The IRS penalty for not taking an RMD is 50% of the valuation reported by ET. Rock, meet hard place.

Advice and/or commiseration are welcome!

JC in the UK said...

I don't believe that Steve Brunner died, I would like to see the evidence of that. I realised that this was a scam soon after I made my (thankfully) small investment in 2003, which was followed by endless offers to by more 'trees' at discounted rates.

DC-Based Victim said...

This may be an alternative that we can try. Apparently, the FTC can have jurisdiction over real estate scams in a foreign country (Belize in the case in the article), assuming thee is a US component. You may need a WSJ subscription to access this article.


Vernon Martin, MSRE, CFE said...

I have new information on the TATF properties that I have posted on this blog today, July 12, 2019. This info may help some of you trying to close your IRAs regarding this property.

John Kuhnle said...

Received a notice dated July 3, 2019 from Equity Trust to the effect they are devaluing TATF assets in the IRA account to $1 as they have not received a valuation update from TATF within the last 5 years and a general lack of communication from TATF (the asset provider).