Bay Ridge

Insurance agent bilked clients out of $4.5 million

Crook preyed on elderly, DA says

January 20, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A Staten Island man who owned a Bay Ridge-based insurance company systematically bilked his elderly clients out of nearly $4.5 million over a period of time, according to Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.

Paul Simoneschi, 70, owner of Simmons Planning Group & Agency, Inc., at 8403 Seventh Ave., pleaded guilty to grand larceny as a hate crime, scheme to defraud and money laundering in court on Jan. 19.

Simoneschi targeted vulnerable, elderly victims and scammed them out of their hard-earned savings, according to Thompson, who said that some of Simoneschi’s clients were Italian immigrants who conversed with him in Italian.
“Shamefully, this defendant destroyed the retirements of elderly people who trusted him with their life savings. Some of them considered him a friend, but that did not stop him from taking advantage of their age and lack of financial knowledge to steal their money,” the DA said in a statement.
Simoneschi, who lives at 57 Benedict Ave. on Staten Island, pleaded guilty to first-degree scheme to defraud, first-degree money laundering and second-degree grand larceny as a hate crime before New York State Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun. Simoneschi is scheduled to be sentenced on Match 21. Justice Chun indicated that he would sentence the defendant to an indeterminate term of four to 12 years in prison.

Simoneschi also signed judgment orders of restitution totaling $4,477,562, Thompson said.
In addition, Simoneschi’s corporation, Simmons Planning Group & Agency, Inc., pleaded guilty to first-degree scheme to defraud, first-degree money laundering and second-degree grand larceny.
The crimes took place between March 10, 2008 and July 29, 2015, when the defendant, who is a licensed insurance agent and financial planner, sold insurance policies and annuities to his clients.
Simoneschi developed long-term relationships with some of his clients, including senior citizens who were not financially savvy, and over time gained the trust of his clients.

An investigation revealed that Simoneschi stole from his clients by various means, including recommending that they surrender their insurance policies and invest the money with him. But instead of investing the money, he allegedly stole it by depositing it into his accounts that he controlled and used the money for himself.

In other instances, he allegedly surrendered his victims’ insurance policies without their permission, forging their names and subsequently depositing the checks into accounts that he controlled. 

Simoneschi tried to conceal his crimes by providing false documents to his victims, including copies of “new” policies he opened on their behalf.

At times, he gave them checks purported to be distributions from their policies or accounts, but which were actually checks from other accounts he controlled, Thompson said.

In total, Simoneschi stole $4.477 million from 21 victims, many of whom are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the DA said. The victims lost amounts ranging from $1,000 to more than $1 million.
Thompson said the scheme was discovered after the defendant contacted one of his victims to tell him that he should reinvest his money in a new policy. The victim declined the offer, but later discovered that his account had been raided and that only $2,000 remained when the balance should have been more than $300,000. He reported the matter to police.

An investigation discovered the additional victims, who had not even been aware that they had been victimized.
The case was investigated by Detective Mark Lombardo of the NYPD’s 68th Precinct Detective Squad, under the supervision of Capt. Aaron Klein and Sgt. Regina Debellis.
An additional investigation was conducted by Detective Investigator Hubert Dixon and Supervising Detective Investigator Robert Addonizio of the District Attorney’s Investigations Bureau under the supervision of Chief Investigator Richard Bellucci. Financial Investigators Ludwig Sanchez and Shaakira Calnick, also of the DA’s office, assisted in the investigation.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant DAs Maria Leonardi and Heidi Bausk of the Frauds Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant DA Felice Sontupe, chief of the Frauds Bureau, and the overall supervision of Executive Assistant DA William E. Schaeffer and Patricia McNeill, deputy chief of the Investigations Division.

—Information from the Brooklyn DA’s Office


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