The TV news shows and headlines are full of stories about violent crimes and terrorism, real and alleged.
There’s also financial terrorism.
White-collar crime is often underplayed in the media, unless it involves business and social luminaries, such as long-jailed retailer-turned-investment-fraudster Tom Petters, or car dealer Denny Hecker, who panicked and forged financial documents when things were heading south for his business during the Great Recession.
Although few targets are blown up or threatened at gunpoint, white-collar crime claims financial and emotional victims, including family and consumers who pay more for insurance or credit or other things to make up for what can be millions in stolen money.
“It’s always been a top priority of this office,” said Greg Brooker, the acting U.S. attorney for Minnesota. “And the pipeline is always full of fraudulent investment schemes, unfortunately.
“White-collar fraud can have a devastating impact on individual victims. Retirements and savings can be wiped out by fraudulent investment schemes. Embezzlement, banking fraud and insurance fraud can result in increased cost to consumers and small businesses. Those costs are passed on.”
Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman, who works closely on enforcement, investigation and prevention programs with Hennepin County and federal authorities, has called “elder fraud,” financial crimes against seniors, the fastest-growing form of white-collar crime.
The perpetrators can be family members, care providers or financial advisers.
Last winter, John Heath, a financial adviser from Edina, pleaded guilty in a Hennepin County court to swindling an incapacitated 88-year-old man out of $220,000.
“Seniors are a growing population,” Rothman said at the time. “They have the greatest amount of wealth of any generation. Criminals know that. Seniors are living longer and many become susceptible to diminished capacity.”
According to a 2016 independent survey commissioned by Allianz Life Insurance of North America, 37 percent of family and friends who hold caregiving roles said the senior they care for has experienced financial abuse or exploitation that resulted in a financial loss at the hands of a family member, acquaintance, telephone or computer scam, financial adviser or other source.
Investment clients, banks, insurers and even private golf clubs can be victims, according to a rash of federal and state cases this year.
Here are a few recent pending and concluded cases:
• In August, the former controller of St. Paul’s Town & Country Club on the Mississippi River was indicted on federal charges that she embezzled $1 million-plus from the 120-year-old golf and social club. Julie Ann Lee of Farmington was charged with stealing cash and writing fraudulent checks over the course of eight years to finance travel, home improvements, vehicles and a mortgage. Lee has yet to respond to the charges in federal district court. The former general manager of the club, who was her boss, left sometime after the investigation was disclosed to members in December 2016.
• This month, federal authorities accused a Mound man of stealing more than $1 million from investors. They say Jeremy R. Lundin solicited investors for securities investments and used the money for trips, jewelry and a luxury boat. Lundin has yet to respond to the charges, according to court records.
• This summer, Bryan Reichel, CEO of PureChoice until it shuttered in 2011, was sentenced to 22 years in prison and ordered to pay $22.3 million in restitution after a jury found him guilty of an investment fraud scheme involving PureChoice, an indoor air filtration company. From 1992 to 2011, investors lost a net total of about $25 million, according to government court filings.
• In August, Jeffrey Kluge, a former Merrill Lynch adviser in St. Paul, was sentenced to 50 months in prison and ordered to pay about $8.7 million in restitution to Alliance Bank and Platinum Bank for a 15-year bank fraud scheme in which he duped the banks into making loans based on doctored Merrill Lynch account information. The 15-year fraud started with a $150,000 line of credit Alliance Bank extended to Kluge in 2001 based on his falsified account statement, according to Kluge’s signed plea agreement.
Kluge placed some securities bets that didn’t work out and then doubled down, hoping to make a big killing that never happened. And he paid $5 million-plus in interest to the two banks over time, said Kluge’s lawyer, Steven Wolter.
• Also in August, John Burwood Robinson pleaded guilty to stealing $1.2 million from his employer, North Central Stamping and Manufacturing of Blaine, where he was a financial executive, to fund his car-restoration hobby.
Health care fraud and mortgage fraud cases are also prevalent. Last month, additional state and federal charges were filed against 26 people, including several Twin Cities chiropractors, for allegedly swindling insurance companies out of more than $20 million in a growing case.
That same month, in a national civil case led by the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota, a New Jersey mortgage lender with operations in Edina, PHH Home Loans, agreed to pay more than $74 million to settle a federal investigation into defective home loans.
PHH Corp. agreed to pay $65 million to resolve alleged Federal Housing Administration (FHA) violations and another $9.5 million to resolve allegations that it sent the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defective loans that were purchased by government mortgage programs.
PHH admitted to a number of charges, including that for years it certified for FHA insurance loans that did not meet government underwriting standards, that it failed to document borrowers’ creditworthiness and that it insured loans even though borrowers didn’t meet FHA standards.
“PHH submitted defective loans for government insurance, and homeowners and taxpayers paid the price,” Brooker said last month. “This significant resolution helps rectify the misconduct by returning more than $74 million in wrongfully claimed funds to the government.”
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at email@example.com.