A Medford couple appeared in Jackson County Court Monday to face charges of fraud, theft and racketeering stemming from a scheme involving more than $900,000.

A Medford developer and mortgage broker and his wife appeared in Jackson County Circuit Court Monday to face a string of fraud, theft and racketeering charges linked to an apparent Ponzi scheme involving more than $900,000.

James Charles Nistler, 78, and his wife, Michelle Marie Nistler, 55, each are charged with two counts of racketeering and eight counts of aggravated first-degree theft and securities fraud. Each pleaded not guilty at Monday's arraignment.

Medford police launched an investigation into Jim Nistler and his mortgage company, First Call Mortgage and Investments LLC, in November 2007 after getting complaints from investors who believed he had defrauded them, Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said.

The department's financial investigation section uncovered what appeared to be serious problems in the Nistlers' operations and called an investigator from the Oregon Division of Finance and Corporate Securities, a state agency that regulates the securities and mortgage industry, Doney said.

The team determined that Nistler illegally obtained funds from people by deceiving them about residential real estate investments in a Medford subdivision called Tennessee Acres, Doney said. The transactions that investigators suspect are fraudulent took place between March 2006 and May 2007, police said.

Doney said that Nistler had advertised in the Mail Tribune, promising a high rate of return on short-term investments. Investors contacted police in November 2007 to complain that Nistler didn't tell them how the funds were used and that they believed the money had been funneled to pay off other investors in a classic Ponzi scheme.

Investigators claimed that the activities of Nistler, First Call and another company he was involved in, Jackson County Development LLC, had violated Oregon securities laws. They alleged that he engaged in unlicensed securities activity, sold securities which were unregistered with the state and committed securities fraud. Michelle Nistler also played a role in the fraud scheme, investigators said.

Multiple victims, many of whom were elderly, lost money, Doney said. Detectives found that the Nistlers collected at least $900,000. As the investigation continues and details become public, detectives suspect that more victims could be discovered.

The Nistlers were arrested at their home in the 6600 block of McLoughlin Drive, Central Point, on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend in jail. They remained there Monday evening, with bail set at $250,000, jail records show.

James Nistler has lived in the Rogue Valley since 1957 and has been involved in real estate development and finance, as well as serving as a deputy assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, past news stories have reported. He also has an extensive record of civil cases in Circuit Court.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.