‘Net winners’ in former Copley coach’s business face clawback lawsuits

Those who invested with former Copley basketball coach Mark Dente’s real estate company — in what has been deemed a Ponzi scheme — are being divided into two groups: net winners and net losers. 

The net winners got back more money than they put in, while the net losers lost more. 

A Cleveland attorney tasked with trying to recoup the funds lost by hundreds of investors has filed lawsuits against more than 70 investors identified as “net winners” in the past five months.  

These so-called “clawback” lawsuits seek to recoup nearly $66.1 million from those who invested with Dente and his company AEM Services LLC in Fairlawn.

The net winners, though, may have thought they were making legitimate investments when they gave money to Dente and not realized they were part of a Ponzi scheme. 

“A lot of investors had a good-faith belief they were legitimate investments,” said Bill Chris, an Akron attorney who represents a half dozen Dente investors. 

A Ponzi scheme happens when money from investors is used to pay back earlier investors. The scheme collapses when it can no longer be sustained. 

The clawback lawsuits are the latest attempt by Mark Dottore, a Cleveland attorney appointed as a receiver, to recover as much of the $220 million invested by more than 800 people as possible. These proceeds will then be distributed to the “net losers.” 

Dente, a Copley graduate, was hired to coach Copley High School’s boys basketball team at the start of the 2010-2011 season and began coaching the girls team in January 2017. He lost his coaching positions in May 2022 with lawsuits piling up against him that accused him of not repaying millions of dollars to investors in his real estate business. 

The people suing Dente included one of his fellow coaches at Copley High School. 

Dente also was sued by the state of Ohio in July 2022. The state lawsuit alleges Dente was operating a “fraudulent scheme” that raised millions of dollars from investors through the sale of promissory notes and other means tied to real estate investments.

The suit also said Dente used investor money as “his own personal slush fund” and commingled investor money with personal accounts.  The state’s lawsuit claims Dente used the investor funds to make mortgage payments, pay for a vacation home for his family and college tuition, and buy watercraft, including a boat and jet ski. 

Dottore was appointed as the receiver in June 2022 by Patricia Cosgrove, a visiting judge in Summit County Common Pleas Court. His job is to inventory AEM Services’ assets and debts and return whatever money he finds to the investors who lost money. 

Dente is being investigated by the Ohio Division of Securities and the FBI, which both are seeking information from people who invested with him.  

Dottore seeks clawbacks from ‘net winners’ 

In the past five months, Dottore has filed 71 clawback lawsuits in Summit County court against individuals and businesses that he claims profited from Dente’s investment scheme. 

The suits seek between $15,992 and $6,747,800. 

In the Akron area, the subjects of the clawbacks are from Akron, Copley, Norton, Twinsburg, Cuyahoga Falls, Barberton, Medina, Wadsworth, Canton, North Canton, Louisville and Massillon. Besides Ohio, those being sued also hail from Georgia, New York, Florida and Texas.

Dottore’s clawback suits include several members of the same family, including five members of a family who live in Akron, Wadsworth and Louisville. Dottore is seeking a combined $3.5 million from them, according to court records. 

A Napoleon man contributed the most to Dente of any of the subjects of the clawback suits. He gave Dente $4.1 million and got $6.7 million back, for a profit of about $2.6 million, according to court records. 

However, Chris, the Akron attorney representing several investors facing clawback lawsuits, questioned Dottore’s math, especially because he is relying on Dente’s poor record-keeping.  

Dottore has said Dente kept hardly any records of his business dealings and filed no tax returns from 2019 to 2022. 

Mary Whitmer, an attorney for Dottore, said those targeted in the clawback suits will have the opportunity to show that they aren’t net winners. 

“That’s what we believe at this point in the case,” Whitmer said of the clawback suits. 

Dottore already dropped a clawback suit against a Massillon man, saying he has “satisfactorily proven” that he is “a net loser.” 

Whitmer said more clawback lawsuits will be filed, though they will weigh whether the amount it would cost to litigate the suits are worth it, considering the amount that could be recovered. 

Whitmer acknowledged the targets of the clawbacks likely didn’t expect to have to repay the money they received from Dente. 

“They may not have it,” she said. 

Receiver files lawsuits and seeks assets 

Dottore has also filed lawsuits against several companies that invested with Dente. 

This includes a company called SP Investment Services that is led by two local lawyers. 

Dottore said he thinks SP officials knew two to three months beforehand that Dente’s business was crumbling. 

SP Investment, which is suing Dente and AEM, has denied any wrongdoing. However, this and several other lawsuits have been put on hold while Dottore sees how much he can recoup. 

Dottore has been gathering and selling assets owned, managed or used by Dente, his family and his company. He already has sold a Portage Lakes home, a pontoon boat and a jet ski. He also has identified properties controlled by AEM or its affiliates, including 16 in Ohio, one in Nevada and one in New York. 

Dottore said he has collected more than $3 million from the assets he’s sold so far. He still plans to go after Dente’s houses in Copley and Florida. 

Dottore said Dente doesn’t currently have a lawyer, so that is slowing down the progress of a lawsuit against him and his family. Michael Creveling, a Fairlawn attorney, withdrew from representing Dente in December. 

Dente has denied any nefarious actions but admitted to poor record-keeping in court documents.

“He’s not cooperating,” Dottore said of Dente.

If Dente ends up facing criminal charges, Dottore said he will be appointed an attorney if he can’t afford one. That doesn’t happen in civil lawsuits. 

Dottore went after the home of Jason Ramus, AEM’s vice president of business development, in Ramus’ federal bankruptcy case. Ramus’ Massillon home is valued at about $712,000, according to court records.  

Ramus, who filed for bankruptcy in April 2023, claims he didn’t realize Dente was operating a Ponzi scheme until Dottore was appointed in June 2022, according to court documents.  

A U.S. trustee, though, is seeking to have Ramus’ bankruptcy case dismissed, arguing that he was part of the Ponzi scheme. 

If Ramus’ bankruptcy case is thrown out, Dottore said he’ll seek to obtain and sell Ramus’ house through Summit County court. 

In February, Dottore filed an accounting of his expenses through Dec. 31 with the Summit County court that totaled $921,254. He billed between $125 and $400 an hour for him and his associates to provide services like going through documents, making phone calls and having meetings. 

Dottore said he won’t be paid until the end of this process, which he estimated could take another two years. He said he tries to keep what he makes to less than 10% of the amount he’s able to recover. He hopes this will be between $75 million and $88 million in the Dente case. 

“It’s expensive to do this,” Dottore, who has been the receiver in seven Ponzi schemes, said of the recovery process. 

State and federal agencies investigate Dente 

The Ohio Department of Commerce Securities Division sent a questionnaire to Dente investors in December, several investors told the Beacon Journal. 

Jamie Crawford, a spokesperson for the agency, said the agency cannot discuss pending investigations. 

Crawford said the division investigates violations of the Ohio Securities Act. Investigations begin with referrals from federal, state and local agencies, including law enforcement, and from investors. 

Crawford said there is no set timeline for investigations. 

“Because these investigations generally involve monetary transactions, they can and do take time to follow the money to identify use of proceeds, victims, targets and other material information,” he said. 

Crawford said the charges the agency files include fraud, theft, engaging as a dealer or investment adviser without a proper license, and engaging in the sale of unregistered securities. 

The FBI sent a questionnaire to Dente investors and posted a query on its website in March.

The federal agency encouraged people who invested with Dente to fill out the information and to urge other investors they know to do the same. 

Susan Licate, a spokesperson for the FBI in Cleveland, has declined to comment on the investigation. 

Licate said investment fraud was one of the top three frauds for victims’ losses in 2023, costing victims about $4.6 billion. She said those who suspect a federal law has been violated may report it to the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI. 

How Dente investors can get help 

Those who invested with Dente and need help can reach out to Dottore or to the agencies investigating Dente:

  • Mark Dottore: Call his office at 216-771-0727 or visit his company’s website, www.dottoreco.com. Click on the AEM tab under “current cases.” 
  • FBI: Send emails to [email protected] or call FBI Youngstown Victim Services at 330-965-2920. 
  • Ohio Department of Commerce Securities Division: File a complaint at https://securities.com.ohio.gov/odoc/UIPViews/FillXPForm.aspx or call the division’s hotline at 1-800-788-1194. 

Other resources provided by the FBI include: 

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at [email protected], 330-996-3705 and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj. 

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