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Investors seek probe of late head of financial services firm

By Joe Beck

WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County authorities are investigating complaints from several clients of a financial services company headed by a woman who died on July 22 of what the Sheriff's Office called a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The clients have been asking the Sheriff's Office and Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley to take action against Barbara Follin, 64, who was the owner of Blackwell Financial Services in Woodstock.

Sheriff Timothy Carter said his office received an initial complaint on July 18.

"Since then, we've had a total of four people report to our office activity of a fraudulent nature," Carter said, referring to complaints about Blackwell Financial Services and Follin.

"In the course of speaking with these four people regarding this activity, we've also been made aware of at least three others we're going to attempt to contact as well," Carter said.

Wiseley said she has been fielding the same kinds of complaints fielded by the Sheriff's Office, but it is too late to prosecute Follin.

"Based on a preliminary investigation, it appears criminal conduct did occur, but she's deceased, so we can't pursue any criminal charges," Wiseley said, adding that she would "encourage" clients to "seek legal counsel for a civil remedy."

Wiseley called Follin's death an "apparent" suicide, although the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has yet to issue a finding on an official cause of death.

Shenandoah County Maj. Scott Proctor said his agency is not classifying Follin's death as a suicide until hearing from the medical examiner, but "our agency believes it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and there were no signs of foul play."

Wiseley said she still has the option of bringing charges against any living person who may have been involved in defrauding those she described as "potential victims" of the firm.

Wiseley has asked Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp to issue an order that would allow authorities to further investigate transactions involving Follin and others.

"We're looking for financial documents to see if perhaps there was another person involved with her," Wiseley said of Follin.

Brook Barrick, 86, of Edinburg, said Follin owed $200,000 to his wife, Jan, money that was intended to support her in retirement. Now Follin is dead, the money appears to be gone and his wife, in her 60s, is approaching retirement with little or no private savings.

"I'm 86 years old, and it's too late to start over," Barrick said.

Barrick said his wife worked for Follin at Blackwell for several years and had little inkling anything was wrong until the last few days leading up to Follin's death.

"Two weeks before her death, nobody could get in contact in with her," Barrick said. "That was the only thing."

A lawsuit filed in Circuit Court against Follin and Blackwell seeks to recover $143,155 plus 10 percent interest from September 25, 2012.

The suit, filed by Kimberly Estep of Mount Jackson, describes Follin as the executor of the estate of her late father, Lawrence J. Mandala. Estep's attorney Carolyn Abbott is listed as a co-plaintiff.

The suit states that Mandala invested a total of $115,833 with Follin and Blackwell between Dec. 10, 2007 and May 4, 2009, an account that had grown to $143,155 by the time of his death in September 2012 .

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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