But perhaps they didn't want to look too closely: At least some were receiving statements that showed their investments rising in value, their 15 percent returns adding up over the years. Given such returns, many of the investors in the case simply left the money where it was rather than cashing out. Others arranged for Mr. Scott to send them a certain sum each month out of the accounts he managed for them, and they say the checks arrived regularly until last fall.
Why, in other words, look a gift horse in the mouth?
Now, however, it is the details that consume them as they search for canceled checks, receipts and statements to make their case.
They are thrown together against a common enemy, and yet theirs is an uneasy alliance. Even if some of the money is recovered -- and that is a big if -- there surely will be more claims than funds to cover them. There are hopes that hidden assets will be discovered, but also fears that the money is long gone, perhaps gambled away or lost in what the securities commission calls Mr. Scott's "speculative" stock picks. It is a complex case that may not be sorted out for some time. Some investors have hired attorneys to represent them; others are holding back for now, not wanting to throw good money after bad.
As they start to feel the impact of their losses -- some have filed for bankruptcy; others have come out of retirement -- they face dry procedural hearings that seem to be about everything but fixing the mess they're in.
Last December, in a stuffy courtroom in Prince George's County, the investors were fretful and righteous. A few disdainfully huffed as it grew apparent that Mr. Scott's attorneys were smoother than the prosecutors. Anger became outrage as Mr. Scott's attorneys tried to ensure that his assets weren't frozen so completely that they wouldn't get paid.
They seem like a sadly wounded village, as if even before Richard Scott came into their lives, something had swept through and left every family bereft. Deaths and illnesses and personal problems.
Not even the Clancys were immune -- her mother and his father died recently, she was diagnosed with cancer and they went through a highly publicized separation after his involvement with another woman.
Getting ensnared in a bad financial scheme on top of all that is not entirely coincidental: Money and hardship tend to follow each other. Someone dies and leaves you money. Or, someone falls ill, and you need more money to provide care.
In September, George Sowa, a World War II bomber pilot, spent a lot of anxious hours in the waiting room of the Andrews Air Force Base hospital, where his wife was operated on for lung cancer and placed in the intensive care unit. In the situational intimacy of such places, he got to know Robert Miller, a retired military man, who was hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat and liked to escape his bed occasionally for the more companionable waiting room.
Mr. Sowa worried aloud about having to put his wife in a nursing home, and how much that would cost. Mr. Miller, who had lost his wife to cancer a year earlier, told him about this investments guy who gave him "unbelievable" returns. "He told me that's how he was able to take care of his wife," Mr. Sowa recalled.
It was just a 10-minute ride from the hospital to Goldie's, so Mr. Sowa went to check out this investment wizard. He ultimately gave him $100,000.
Now, the Sowas are part of the group that follows the case from proceeding to proceeding -- or as much of it as they can. At the December hearing, they left while the judge and lawyers were still in the midst of a lengthy recess.
"We have to go," he said, pointing to the wheeled oxygen tank that was enabling his wife Irene to breathe. "She's running out."
Letters from state
Mr. Sowa says sardonically that he was probably among the last to "donate to the cause." And, indeed, by mid-September, the state had already sent letters to some of Mr. Scott's clients, saying that he was under investigation and soliciting information on their investments with him. Although the letter asked that they keep the matter confidential, at least one investor went to Mr. Scott.
Mr. Scott explained it away as a minor oversight easily rectified with some routine paperwork. It was more than that, though: He had never registered as an investment adviser as required by Maryland law.
Financial planners and investment advisers must be licensed through the securities commission just as broker-dealers are, said Robert N. McDonald, the state's securities commissioner. While about 10 people a year are fined a small amount for operating without the proper registration, much harsher penalties apply to those who pose as brokers or financial planners as part of an illicit moneymaking scheme. If criminal charges are filed against Mr. Scott and his partners, they could be fined as much as $50,000 and sentenced to three years in prison for each count.
"We don't get many cases of this magnitude," Mr. McDonald said.