Witnesses Detail Investments Made With Brenda Sargent

Thursday, May 22, 2003
Sean Vereen wondered why he would be providing money to multi-millionaires. Click to enlarge all our photos.
Sean Vereen wondered why he would be providing money to multi-millionaires. Click to enlarge all our photos.

A string of witnesses testified Thursday morning of being asked for money by Brenda Sargent, wife of prominent plastic surgeon Dr. Larry Sargent.

One witness, Sean Vereen, said, "The only question I had was why would a guy who is a straight commission life insurance salesman be making loans to multi-millionaires."

Mr. Vereen, who is now a financial advisor, said he met Mrs. Sargent at the Sports Barn and that she asked him to invest in a deal involving foreclosed property in Texas.

The seven witnesses testified in the case in which Stan Carnahan is suing Dr. and Mrs. Sargent, saying he made numerous payments to Mrs. Sargent and is still owed $219,000.

Chancellor Frank Brown had ruled the evidence about "other deals" was not admissible, but the testimony was taken for appeal purposes. It was in open court without the judge present, but with a court reporter.

Mr. Vereen, who lives at Windstone, said Mrs. Sargent in late 1997 or early 1998 "approached me about an investment opportunity."

He said he was told that her sister, Diane, was a vice president of a Texas mortgage company and that from time to time, foreclosed properties became available. Mrs. Sargent said money was needed to buy the properties wholesale, then sell them at a higher price.

Mr. Vereen said he wrote Mrs. Sargent a check for $10,000, and she immediately wrote him a postdated check for $15,000. He said there was a second check he wrote for $5,000, and she gave him one for $8,000. He said he made $8,000 on those deals.

Mr. Vereen said he later was asked to provide $15,000, and he did. But he said Mrs. Sargent told him that deal did not go through. He said, "I called her begging. I could not lose $15,000."

He said he could not reach Mrs. Sargent at first, but when he left a message saying he was going to the bank, she called within a few minutes. He said she told him the deal did not go through "because the paperwork was put in the wrong box."

He said she agreed to write him a personal check for $15,000, and he went to her house and retrieved it from under a statue.

Mr. Vereen said the only other person he knew who did deals with Mrs. Sargent was her friend, Tina Johnson, of Ooltewah.

Mr. Vereen said that at one point, Mrs. Sargent warned him to "not get involved" in any legal action against her, saying she would countersue for usury.

He said Mrs. Sargent, reached on a cell phone while she was on an airplane flight, said, "If I knew what was good for me and my family, I would stay out of it." He said he was disturbed by that statement, "My family had nothing to do with it. To involve my family is not right."

Mr. Vereen showed on his income tax form where he had listed the $8,000 made in the Sargent deal as a capital gain.

He said he knew how much money the Sargents had because he had examined their financial accounts.

But another witness, Chet Prado of Hixson, did not bring his tax form to the hearing as he had been subpoenaed to do. Attorneys said they would question him later. Before his testimony was curtailed, he said he had met Mrs. Sargent in 1994 and made payments to her and received money back.

Connie Early said she gave a number of loans to Mrs. Sargent, "and she paid me every dime I ever gave her."

She said the last few checks she got from Mrs. Sargent were not good at the bank, but she said Mrs. Sargent gave her a separate check that covered the principal amount.

Asked where she had gotten the money to give to Mrs. Sargent, she said, "I was left a lot of money when my father died."

Dee Henson of Ooltewah, owner of a sprinkler company, said she has known the Sargents since 1986. She said Mrs. Sargent asked her and her husband for a loan "so she could get something for Larry." She said they got the money from a credit union on a 90-day note.

Mrs. Henson said, "Of course, it was none of our business what the money was for."

She said there were a couple of other times she loaned money to Mrs. Sargent - "for something for Larry and for draperies."

She said Mrs. Sargent needed the money "until she could get her bonus."

Mrs. Henson said the checks given them "were on the Sargents' account so we knew they were good."

Freda Merindino, who is also from Ooltewah, said Mrs. Sargent told her she needed $15,000. She said she didn't have the money but went to the Meigs County Bank and took out a loan. She said she put down that it was for home repairs, but "when I was going out the door" she said the banker asked her "if it was going to Brenda."

She said Mrs. Sargent told her there was a problem getting the money from Texas, so the loan had to be rolled over. She said she finally was paid and made about $4,100 on the deal.

She said that on another occasion, Mrs. Sargent asked her for $150,000. She said, "I just laughed because I didn't have $150,000."

She said she decided to not give more money to Mrs. Sargent, saying, "I didn't believe the stories anymore."

Mrs. Merindino said Mrs. Sargent and Tina Johnson came to her house and "assaulted me." She claimed Mrs. Sargent grabbed at her throat and that Ms. Johnson hurt her back and neck.

She also said Mrs. Sargent went to where her child was in school at Brainerd Baptist.

On cross-examination, Mrs. Merindino acknowledged that Mrs. Sargent once "paid my $293 light bill." She said, "I had garnered $10,000 for the Craniofacial Foundation."

She agreed that Mrs. Sargent had also given her a $200 "gift of love and affection" and bought her clothes.

Mrs. Merindino said, "Is that where all the money went?"

Kim Martin Pendergrass said there were two loans to Mrs. Sargent at the time she was married to Ooltewah businessman Phil Martin. She said she was given postdated checks to cover the loans.

She said that on the second one, she had trouble locating Mrs. Sargent and became concerned. She said she eventually found her and was paid.

She said, "It didn't feel right. I told Phil I'd never do it again."

She said Mr. Martin told her there was nothing wrong with the deals and "said he had done it many times."

Ms. Pendergrass said, "After having to chase her down, I didn't want to be a part of this."

Dr. John Franklin, a former partner of Dr. Sargent, said that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the partners were getting $12,000 a month, then got periodic bonuses. He said Dr. Sargent was the only doctor who often got advances on the bonuses.

He said, "On a regular basis, he would get advances. He would go to the office manager and ask for it."

Asked if it appeared Dr. Sargent was living above his means, Dr. Franklin said, "I knew what he made and I saw evidence of that. My impression was that he didn't save much money."


Freda Merindino said Brenda Sargent grabbed at her throat
Freda Merindino said Brenda Sargent grabbed at her throat

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