Bay Ridge insurance agent indicted for allegedly swindling seniors out of millions
A Bay Ridge insurance agent is accused of swindling his customers out of more than $2.5 million of their life savings in a scam targeting vulnerable senior citizens, Brooklyn prosecutors alleged on Wednesday.
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said that Paul Simoneschi, 69, was arraigned on a 64-count indictment in which he is charged with grand larceny as a hate crime and other charges.
Simoneschi is a Staten Island resident with a business at 8403 Seventh Ave. in Bay Ridge.
He appeared in handcuffs in state Supreme Court, Criminal, in Brooklyn before Justice Danny Chun on Wednesday for a bail hearing.
Prosecutors said none of his victims were financially savvy, and many of them were in shock when they learned of his deception.
According to the indictment, between June 30, 2009 and June 14, 2014, Simoneschi, who is a licensed insurance agent and financial planner, owned and operated Simmons Planning Group & Agency Inc. in Bay Ridge and sold insurance policies and annuities to his clients.
“This defendant allegedly took advantage of some of society’s most vulnerable victims, whom he targeted because of their age,” said Thompson. “He held himself out as a savvy investor and trusted advisor, when in fact he was allegedly nothing more than a crook. These victims lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of their life savings at a time when they need it most.”
Twelve of his 13 victims ranged in age from their 60s to 90s, the DA said.
In one case, Simoneschi allegedly stole money from a childhood friend who was in the hospital undergoing surgery for a life-threatening condition. Prosecutors said another victim was forced to move out of his home and live with family members. In June 2014, Simoneschi allegedly compromised the MetLife insurance policy of a 94-year-old client. The defendant is also accused of telling another victim that his investment would be secured by a home equity loan his wife would take out if not paid. He has failed to repay this client’s investment, prosecutors say.
Over the course of the investigation, prosecutors obtained testimony from more than ten of the victims. They also obtained fraudulent paperwork and a voice recording capturing Simoneschi trying to pass himself off as one of the victims or a brother of a victim, requesting the surrender of the 13 victims’ policies.
They also discovered numerous bank accounts opened in his name and in various company names, in his wife Arlene’s name — and in the name of his girlfriend Tatsiana Litvinava. He used $225,000 of the victims’ money to purchase an apartment in Brighton Beach for Ms. Litvinava.
In court on Wednesday, his attorney Mathew Mari painted a different picture of Simoneschi.
“Until 2013, 2014 he was nothing less than a beloved community member,” Mari told Justice Chun in an attempt to get his bail lowered. Mari added his client had medical issues.
Justice Chun set bail at either a $1 million insurance company bond or $300,000 cash.
After the hearing, Mari told reporters, “I was hoping for a lot less.”
“Most people involved with Paul know he never intended to hurt anyone,” he added.
Gained their trust
Simoneschi allegedly gained his clients’ trust over time and spoke in his native Italian to Italian immigrants. After gaining their trust, he would manipulate their lack of financial knowledge to drain their money, the indictment alleges.
In some cases, prosecutors accuse, he recommended that victims surrender their insurance policies and invest the money with him. Instead of investing the money, he deposited it into his own accounts.
In other cases, he allegedly surrendered his victims’ insurance policies without their permission, also depositing the checks into his own accounts.
According to the DA, Simoneschi tried to conceal his crimes by providing false documents to many of his victims. He also gave some of them checks which he said were distributions from their own accounts, but which were actually checks from other accounts he controlled.
Each of the victims lost amounts ranging from $12,000 to $575,000.
Thompson said that the scheme was discovered after the defendant recommended to one of his victims that he should reinvest his money in a new policy. The victim declined, and later discovered that his account had been raided and that only $2,000 remained. The balance should have been more than $300,000. He reported the matter to police.
He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, in a statement, thanked Detective Mark Lombardo of the 68 Precinct squad and the investigators of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
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