State: Bellevue insurance agent and associates targeted elderly widows
Ninety-year old Elinor Carter wants to stay in the home she and her late husband purchased more than 30 years ago. But investigators say both Elinor and her equity were targets of an equity scheme.
For more than two years, investigators with the state Attorney General's Office say Carter and other local seniors were befriended by people claiming to help them with a reverse mortgage -- a loan that helps seniors use the equity without loan payment. But a lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court accuses Bill Dailey, Janet Sparks and Debbie Higgins of targeting seniors, many of them widows, in order to sell reverse mortgages and complex insurance annuity investments, then cash in on commissions.
The three were part of a company they called T.E.A.M. Services LLC and T.E.A.M. INSURANCE SERVICES LLC, but used a number of other business names with consumers. The state says the defendants deceived as many as 40 local seniors like Cater into signing documents they didn't understand.
According to state investigators, they made unsolicited phone calls and door knocks and conducted their business in the victims' homes, so relatives and outsiders wouldn't know what was going on. The defendants allegedly purchased the names and addresses of homeowners who had equity in their homes and qualified for a reverse mortgage, so they knew they were dealing with homeowners who had considerable money tied up in their homes.
"It's a scam," said assistant Attorney General Lisa Erwin. "It was absolutely a scam because what they didn't do is they didn't tell people the products that they were selling them."
Erwin says some victims were even tricked into annuities they didn't want, by the defendants hiding annuity applications under other documents they were signing.
Carter says in her case the defendants went beyond reverse mortgages and annuities, brought in relatives to help clean her home and do remodeling once she got a payout. Carter says the remodeling contractor kept adding to the project and taking her checks to the tune of nearly $200,000 at least, but she never got anything in writing and never got receipts.
Concerned neighbor Margaret Samuelson got suspicious and filed a complaint with the state, which helped launch an investigation. Samuelson says at one time, she even confronted the defendants.
"I told them I was on to them. And I told them I had all the time in the world to research this, and I was going to have to make them pay," she said.
The state is asking for civil penalties, attorney fees and restitution for the victims. Because of the nature of some of the alleged violations, federal criminal penalties may also be involved. Attempts to reach Dailey, Sparks and Higgins for a response were met with no answer on the phone or non-working numbers. The state says the three insist they did nothing wrong.
As a matter of procedure, the key defendants spouses and marital community are also named in the lawsuit.
Read the full complaint here.