Main Line Money Scandal? Millions Missing

Is this the local version Wall Street's Madoff scandal?

A trustee of a suburban charitable foundation said the organization does not know what happened to more than $15 million it entrusted to a local investment manager.

"It's fair to say that the money is not in the foundation now. I don't know where it is," said Bruce H. Hooper, a trustee of the foundation named for his parents, Thornton D. and Elizabeth S. Hooper.

In its latest public filing, the foundation listed $15.22 million in assets under management by Joe Forte LP. Joseph S. Forte, who is self-employed and not licensed as an investment professional, collected $503,287 in fees from the Hooper foundation during the most recent three-year period for which information is available.

The foundation donated $2.52 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2007, some to local organizations including the Independence Seaport Museum, Bryn Mawr Hospital and Cardinal O'Hara High School.

"Certain recipients (of foundation funds) have been informed that there is a problem," Hooper told The Philadelphia Inquirer for a story Wednesday.

Representatives of the U.S. attorney's office, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. postal inspector's office said they were aware of allegations against Forte. None would confirm or deny an investigation.

It was not clear how many clients Forte had or how much money he managed. He did not immediately return a phone message left by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The Hooper foundation was founded in the mid-1960s. It was originally named for Elizabeth S. Hooper, the matriarch of the family behind Interstate Ocean Transport Co., a Philadelphia firm that ran a fleet of tugs and barges. The five Hooper brothers, who renamed the foundation to include their father, sold the company in 1981 for $109 million.

Another client of Forte, Wayne United Methodist Church, said officials were worried about the church's money.

"We have not received any official notification of the status of our investment with Forte, but fear the worst," Pastor Joe DiPaolo told the newspaper. He did not divulge how much money the church had at stake.

Hill Top Preparatory School in Rosemont was another client of Forte, who sits on the school's board.

The school had $1.44 million in investments in a limited partnership on June 30, 2007, according to its latest tax filing. During the three years ended then, Hill Top's income from Joe Forte LP was $1.06 million.

"During the period that these funds were invested with Mr. Forte, we had no reason to suspect any irregularities, relying on regular, quarterly reports from Mr. Forte and his accountant about our investments in addition to occasional in-person meetings," headmaster Thomas W. Needham said in a statement.

Because Forte also managed money for his family, Bruce Hooper said he is facing difficulties beyond the foundation. "My family has severe financial problems all of a sudden," Hooper said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us