Financial planner David L. Garfield enjoyed life as a "pillar" of the community, serving as president of the Katz Jewish Community Center and the synagogue M'Kor Shalom in Camden County.

At the same time, say criminal investigators, Garfield scammed family and friends out of millions of dollars, pillaging trusts for widows and the disabled and investments set aside for inheritances and retirements.

Since Garfield's death Jan. 26 at 67, authorities have discovered that the Cherry Hill resident ran an elaborate Ponzi scheme they believe dated to at least 1993.

In lawsuits filed since January in Camden, Burlington, and Middlesex Counties, more than 20 investors claim losses totaling more than $5 million. Victims include a woman in her 90s and a close friend's autistic grandson.

Garfield's death has presented a stalemate for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, which is expected to end its criminal probe this week after investigators review a report from the court-appointed executor of Garfield's estate.

"Was a crime committed? Yes. Who did it? David Garfield. Was anyone else involved? No," said Assistant Prosecutor Mark Chase, who is overseeing the investigation. But, he said, "we can't prosecute a dead guy."

No one knows what happened to the money managed by Garfield, named by Philadelphia magazine last year as one of the region's top 100 financial planners. His clients hope to recoup their losses, but it doesn't appear there's much left, their attorneys say.

The lawsuits - against Garfield and his estate; his widow, Marjorie; and his Voorhees financial companies - will likely take years to resolve.

"This was a scaled-down version of Bernie Madoff," said Cranford, N.J., lawyer Charles Radler, who filed the first suit against Garfield.

Many victims knew Garfield, an investment counselor since 1973, on a personal level. He met some at M'Kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, where he was president from 1981 to 1984.

Voorhees veterinarian Marc A. Rosenberg, vice president of the Katz J.C.C. in Cherry Hill when Garfield was president from 1984 to 1986, said his father hired Garfield 10 years ago to manage a trust the elder Rosenberg had established for his wife.

His late mother trusted Garfield, Marc Rosenberg said. They saw each other monthly, and Garfield made sure her financial needs were met.

"He was always an admirable, honest, and wise man. And I really believe he was - until he wasn't," Rosenberg said of the friend who, by all accounts, lived a quiet life dedicated to his family. "He turned out to be a con man, but I don't think he started out that way."

Rosenberg has sued in hopes of recovering $200,000 he said he and his wife gave Garfield to buy certificates of deposit.

He and his siblings also filed a lawsuit after learning that $500,000 was drained from their mother's estate.

"It's still very hard to believe that this pillar in the community ended up being what we're seeing now," Rosenberg said. "He was always an unostentatious man."

Cherry Hill lawyer John A. Zohlman said he was able to track some of the Rosenbergs' investment, which he hopes they can claim. But large withdrawals, including a $90,000 check Garfield wrote to himself Dec. 29, added to their losses.

"It appears as though he was getting pressure from all over the place," Zohlman said, "and the house of cards was falling."

When Radler filed his suit on behalf of cardiologist Ian J. Molk in Middlesex County, he said it was apparent that documents had been forged.

Molk, like the others, was after safe investments, not out to make a killing, Radler said. He invested $500,000 and also hired Garfield to manage retirement accounts for his employees worth $430,000.

According to his lawsuit, Molk instructed Garfield to transfer his assets to a different investment firm in July. After months of delay, Garfield sent unsigned checks to the wrong address in November. When he replaced the checks, which totaled $930,623, they bounced.

On Dec. 10, Garfield assured Molk he would wire the money, a transaction he confirmed would take place Dec. 14. When it didn't, Molk hired a lawyer.

Marjorie Garfield e-mailed Molk on Dec. 16 and told him her husband was in intensive care at Cooper University Hospital. He had been ill for six weeks, she said. She expressed surprise about his business lapse, noting that her husband "usually is a very careful and exacting worker," and she promised the situation with Molk would be addressed.

On Dec. 21, Garfield left a message for Molk's attorney acknowledging the "debacle." "I know this looks very, very badly," but, he said, he did not intend to hurt Molk.

After more exchanges, Garfield e-mailed Molk on Jan. 21 and said he had hired Philadelphia civil and defense attorney Jeremy Frey. Frey declined to comment for this article.

On Jan. 26 - as criminal investigators searched for answers and as even more investors were demanding money - Garfield was found dead in his bathtub, authorities said.

On Jan. 27, Molk sued.

Garfield had been hospitalized at least seven times in his last four months and had surgery to insert a pacemaker. The local medical examiner, who did not perform an autopsy, said it was a natural death caused by heart failure, authorities said.

Attorneys found that Garfield had a $1.8 million life insurance plan payable to family. He also held $1 million in liability insurance that may cover some of his clients' losses.

A judge has frozen all of Garfield's assets except for a limited sum distributed to his widow for living expenses. Marjorie Garfield, 67, and her Haddonfield attorney Michael Kulzer did not return messages seeking comment.

It appears that no one but Garfield had access to his clients' investments, said Chase, of the prosecutor's office.

Though Garfield used only a fraction of his clients' money for legitimate investments, investigators found no evidence that Garfield had hidden assets. He lived modestly and spent his nights playing Scrabble with his family, attorneys said.

Though it's possible Garfield was just bad at his job, investigators said there was clear evidence that he created false documents to assure investors their money was safe, and that he had taken money for his personal use.

"It's a classic Ponzi scheme, as far as we can tell," said Camden attorney David Sufrin, who is handling civil claims for a majority of investors. "People trusted a guy who shouldn't have been trusted."

Garfield told clients he had pooled their money to get higher interest rates from reputable firms, Sufrin said.

Instead, he used money from new investors to provide "distributions" to existing clients while pocketing "management fees," authorities said. Eventually, there weren't enough new clients.

Because they trusted Garfield, clients never questioned the bogus financial statements.

"He's a salesman," said Marty Wolf, an investigator with the prosecutor's office.

"It's tragic," Wolf said. "People planning to retire at 70 will be working until 80. I've had so many phone calls. One woman said she invested $40,000 for retirement, and now she's got nothing."

When the end came, clients were shocked, Sufrin said. In addition to being a prominent member of the Jewish community, Garfield was on an ethics board that monitored lawyers. He made generous charitable donations to organizations to which he also offered free financial guidance.

It appeared he was a loving husband and father to his three daughters, one of whom married in December and had a lavish Rittenhouse Square reception, Sufrin said.

Though he had a 36-foot yacht, Garfield lived in a modest house on Fenwick Road in Cherry Hill and worked in an unassuming office on Haddonfield-Berlin Road in Voorhees.

Even Garfield seemed shocked as his financial troubles grew. He repeatedly promised to return investments that were long gone. According to one lawsuit, Philadelphia client Arlene Kline called Garfield in December about a missing distribution from her $200,000 investment.

"Garfield said he was in poor health, and he sounded extremely distressed," the lawsuit said. "In that conversation, Garfield said, 'I had no idea that it would all unravel.' "