‘Where is the money?’: Pickleball entrepreneur $47 million in debt, putting investors on edge

THE VILLAGES, Fla. (WFLA) — Rodney Grubbs is well known in the Pickleball world but his claimed bottom line was served in a different court with far more red than some expected.

Grubbs reported nearly $47 million in debt in his summary of assets and liabilities filed in the forced bankruptcy of his sports apparel and equipment company, Pickleball Rocks. The Indiana resident reported just under $1.6 million in assets.

Florida is home to many of his investors, who claim they were promised a 12 percent return over 18 months for each $25,000 investment in Grubbs’ company.

The investors, who filed a federal complaint in Indianapolis to force Grubbs to liquidate, come from across the country, according to their attorney Matthew Foster. Foster said there are also victims who live outside the country.

Jennifer Butler, of The Villages, invested $90,000 with Grubbs. Butler and most of the other investors said Grubbs was a friend they trusted.

“That’s shocking,” Butler said about the debt Grubbs declared.

But she is not convinced Grubbs reported the truth.

“Where is the money he’s borrowed from all these people?” she wondered. “Where is the money? Our trustee and attorney are looking for hidden [assets.]”

The pitch to investors usually included a sense of urgency and exclusivity. According to Butler and court filings, most were told there was only one more slot left for the requested $25,000 investment.

It turned out there were several final opportunities.

Buter said she backed up her faith in Grubbs with her own research that included a phone call to another investor.

“He said. ‘Oh yeah. [Grubbs] gave me the money back. He gave me 12 percent interest. It’s a great deal,’ He paid some people,” Butler said.

Some suspect it was a pyramid scheme that would have continued to pay investors, as long as Grubbs could convince others to provide funding at the bottom of the pyramid.

Skepticism devolved into suspicion in a Facebook page created by Florida resident Teri Siewert.

Suddenly there were several investors asking about their money.

“He did not pay the vast majority,” Butler said.

Several from that majority forced Grubbs into bankruptcy, even though he insisted he could have paid everyone back if Pickleball Rocks was allowed to stay in business.

“For them not to do something with that and make more money for the creditors before they just simply dissolve it,” Grubbs said after the first hearing on the complaint. “It’s a missed opportunity, unfortunately.”

Grubbs has not responded to other requests for comment.

Butler said while she no longer trusts what Grubbs says, she believes he still believes his own optimism.

“He actually doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong,” Butler said. “I don’t understand what is going through his head.”

The court ordered Grubbs to release more financial records connected to five banks that are non-parties in the complaint.

Butler said she hopes hidden assets will be discovered, but added that there is some solace if the disgruntled investors’ claims and losses serve as a warning to others.

“We really only expect to get if anything maybe pennies on the dollar,” Butler said. “We’ve lost a lot, but we have won the fact that we won’t let him to do this to anyone else.”

Some were hit harder by their investments than others, according to Butler.

“There are some people that have given him their entire life savings, their entire retirement,” Butler said. “I don’t know how they’re going to exist.”

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