Michael Thomas Hardman Lake Worth financial planner arrested on allegations he defrauded investors

A Lake Worth financial planner once compared to Bernie Madoff was arrested Friday on allegations that he defrauded investors out of more than $1 million.

Michael Thomas Hardman, 60, is facing charges on nine counts of grand theft and one count of organizing a scheme to defraud. Hardman was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail on Friday morning, and he remained there Friday evening in lieu of $18,000 bond.

"They should have put (him) in jail two years ago, said Allen Thompkins, 73, who is one of 14 people whom Hardman is alleged to have defrauded. "He's right where he should be, and he should stay there."

According a probable-cause arrest affidavit, Hardman formerly worked as a tax preparer and financial adviser and used his position to persuade others to invest in his company, Tech Support Systems. Hardman identified the investments as loans and named himself the personal guarantor of those loans, according to the affidavit.

Each victim said Hardman provided occasional monthly payments to them but eventually stopped making those payments, the affidavit said. Numerous attempts to contact Hardman for collection were mostly unsuccessful, the victims told law-enforcement authorities.

Thompkins, a West Palm Beach resident who began investing in Hardman's firm in 2005, and others have said the situation reminded them of a miniature version of Bernard Madoff's much-publicized Ponzi scheme. Tompkins won a court judgment against Hardman in March 2010, but said he is still waiting to be compensated.

"Let me tell you what he did. The man talked me into investing with him," Hardman said. "As of today he owes me, $232,017 and some few pennies and I ain't got nothing from that (man) in two years."

In one instance, Hardman persuaded a Palm Springs woman to invest the remaining $30,000 from a court settlement stemming from a 1996 hostage situation that left her disabled. After repeated conversations, Hardman promised the woman in March 2010 that her money would be returned, the affidavit said. It never was.

After interviewing the various investors, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office investigators interviewed Hardman in December 2011. Hardman repeatedly denied that any of the money provided to him was an investment. He said the people had loaned him the money.

He said that out of the about $1.3 million he owed in client loans, most of it went toward his personal bad investments. He could not recall where the rest of the money went, the affidavit said.

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