GATLINBURG (WATE) – The first part of a made-for-TV movie aired Wednesday night on WATE 6 On Your Side about Bernie Madoff, the man behind a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. It’s often considered the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.
Only a few years ago a big Ponzi scheme was busted in East Tennessee. The man responsible, Dennis Bolze, is currently serving 27 years in federal prison for bilking people out of millions of dollars.
His Gatlinburg mansion became a symbol of his excessive lifestyle and the investing scandal. It is now owned by one of Bolze’s own victims.
Before 2008, Carol Muszik used to come to the home to meet with Bolze, then her stockbroker. “He was one of the most brilliant men I had ever met, I thought,” she said.
Over several months, Bolze began taking Muszik’s retirement nest egg with the promise of big returns. Muszik had three young boys at the time and while she invested smaller amounts at first, the dollars quickly added up.
“I ended up investing small amounts of $10,000 from the sale of our business and it ended up being half a million dollars.”
Muszik became one of the most vocal victims of Bolze’s Ponzi scheme. There were more than 70 others across the world. She remembers getting increasingly suspicious when Bolze would hesitate to give her dividends and when he did, the checks bounced.
“By December 2008 I remember telling him, ‘Look I’m getting worried about this and I’m thinking this might be a Ponzi scheme. So if you take my money I’m gonna take your house,’ ” said Muszik.
By 2011, that’s exactly what happened. Muszik’s home is now a 14,000 square feet, five bedrooms, custom iron railings, ornately carved doors, five fireplaces, a man cave, a movie room and prime view of both Mt. LeConte and Ober.
“I took his trophy. This was his trophy,” said Muszik. “He was so proud of this house. He took two years to build it and it took everyone’s money to build it.”
Muszik says she got the house for $1.8 million, which is a bargain for a home that at one point was estimated to be worth nearly $16 million. She says she now feels like she got her money back and more, but she says that may not be enough.
“I want to try to do something to give money back to everybody,” said Muszik. She says she has been working on a film, with the idea that all proceeds will go back to the other families who lost millions.
“I turned the tables on him and there is a story there. And there is still the story of where is this money? We’re on the search for it,” said Muszik.
Muszik believes Bolze still has money stashed somewhere in hopes he will get out of jail and not serve his full 27 year sentence. “Up until Madoff,” Muszik said, “people who took twice as much money as that only got four years or five years and he had already calculated that. He told his wife I’m only getting four years. Wait for me,” she said.
The federal prison in Texas where Bolze is serving his sentence has not responded to a request for an interview with Bolze. Muszik says this entire thing has forced her family out of retirement and they have since invested in local attractions, including Gatlinburg’s first zip line company.
If you want to contact Carol Muszik concerning her documentary email her at Ponziquest@gmail.com.