Special Segment: The Price of Love

February 9, 2010 10:14:23 AM PST
A local woman's relationship started with love letters, fancy restaurants and lavish trips, but ended up in court where the man she thought she loved faces criminal charges. Marietta Egan claims the man of her dreams promised to invest her money, but ended up romancing her with it. She says she lost her retirement nest egg. And, now she's speaking out to help save other women from the same kind of heartache.

"I was just looking for love," said Egan.

Marietta Egen keeps a box in her home in Wilmette filled with love letters and cards from Donald Lukens. She says he swept her off her feet.

"There was major, roses constantly, gifts, perfume, getaways," said Egen.

Egen took years off from dating after her husband died to raise her son and met Lukens when she decided to give online dating a try. Her best friend, Khadra Eljazi, says she told Egen she wasn't so sure about Lukens but she didn't listen.

"When somebody is in love, there's really not that much that you can say to them that would break anything up," said Eljazi.

Egen says Lukens told her he was a financial advisor. But he didn't tell her about a 2001 US Securities and Exchange Commission civil complaint where government lawyers allege he ran investment schemes, taking millions of dollars by exploiting vulnerable investors.

After Egen and Lukens started dating pretty seriously, she says he began asking about her financial situation. She says when he looked at her portfolio he seemed extremely concerned.

"He would put his hands on his face, sitting in his living room, crying saying, 'Oh my God, it causes me so much pain to know that you are with this investment firm, and you lost tons and tons of money, God, I wish I was there for you years ago,'" said Egen.

Egen says he talked her into letting him invest her inheritance -- nearly a quarter of a million dollars -- and sent her monthly dividend checks. They continued dating but Egen says she started worrying when nearly two years later Lukens started pulling away and becoming distant. Then one day he sent her a letter saying he wouldn't be sending any more checks. When she called him up in a panic to ask for her money back it was more bad news.

"He goes, that's all gone too," said Egen. "I did actually fall to the floor. Screaming, out of control, I couldn't believe it... I was so embarrassed, and so shocked, and so devastated, that I couldn't tell anyone. It was too gut-wrenching, it was horrible."

When Egen got the courage to tell her friends and family what happened they convinced her to go to the police. Prosecutors say Lukens never invested her money. Instead, they say he used it to pay for his lifestyle and charged him with theft and forgery.

"He is probably, million times better than Bernie Madoff," said Egen. "He is a perfect con man."

"He wasn't a con man, he isn't a con man," said Damon Cheronis, Lukens' lawyer.

Cheronis says he can't discuss what happened to Egen's money because it's an ongoing case.

"He did not use her money to live the high life," said Cheronis. "He did not steal her money, he didn't convert her money for his personal use."

Egen says she thinks Lukens should be behind bars.

"I'll never see this money again, and, but for my, for my heart," said Egen. "I have to see justice is served."

Lukens pleaded not guilty and for now is out on bond in home confinement at his Lake Point Towers condo.

According to the SEC, some of the people whose investments he's accused of misappropriating in its 2001 civil complaint include NFL players like Chicagoan Simeon Rice. Eventually, a judge ordered him to repay nearly $5 million.

Lukens' lawyer says the previous case has absolutely nothing to do with his current case.