Elderly Santa Barbara woman target of insurance fraudsters for a decade
News: 2019 Press Release
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Today, California Department of Insurance detectives arrested two persons for allegedly conspiring to commit financial elder abuse against a Santa Barbara resident. Detectives arrested insurance agent Erica Salda at her residence in Santa Barbara, and financial advisor Wendy Foster at her residence in Oxnard.
Salda, 57, and Foster, 59, allegedly targeted a long-time resident of Santa Barbara over a 10-year period. Beginning in 2005, the then 89-year-old victim had a multi-million dollar investment portfolio that she expected to provide her income for the rest of her life.
“It is repugnant that professionals in positions of great trust, like an insurance agent and financial adviser, would target and steal from a vulnerable senior,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “While the vast majority of licensed agents do not commit fraud, it is important for consumers and their families to be alert for warning signs of abuse.”
Shortly after meeting the victim in 2005, Salda and Foster persuaded her to abandon the licensed professionals who had been managing her estate for years, and replace them with Foster who had no prior experience as a professional fiduciary or attorney-in-fact. Foster and Salda then persuaded the victim to liquidate her entire investment portfolio and invest $3,000,000 in two annuity policies.
Over the next ten years, Foster and Salda allegedly conspired to unnecessarily sell an additional 23 annuities to the victim, many of which were purchased without her knowledge or consent. These sales generated insurance commissions for Salda in excess of $1 million. During the same period of time, Foster collected fees exceeding $400,000 for acting as the victim’s trustee.
Salda operates her business, E-Pro Insurance Agency, out of her home in Santa Barbara. During the course of their relationship with the victim, Salda and Foster failed to disclose material information to her, including the fact that they were engaged in a romantic relationship with each other, and that Foster had declared personal bankruptcy and been sued for fraud by the Federal Trade Commission in the past.
Salda and Foster sought to exert their control over the victim by isolating her from family and friends. As their influence increased, the victim became increasingly dependent upon them to handle her finances and take care of her daily needs. In return, the victim lavished Salda and Foster with tens of thousands of dollars in cash gifts and the use of a luxury automobile. The victim was also persuaded to spend thousands of dollars to pay the education expenses for Foster’s children, including $20,000 for one of Foster’s daughters to spend a year abroad studying in China.
“Isolating a victim from her trusted advisors and family should be a red flag for potential fraud,” said Commissioner Lara.
The Department of Insurance’s Investigation Division in Valencia conducted the investigation. The Department learned about the fraud in 2015 after the victim’s family members became suspicious and contacted Adult Protective Services for assistance.
The charges against Salda and Foster include conspiracy, theft from an elder adult, and multiple counts of insurance fraud. This case is being prosecuted by the Santa Barbara District Attorney.
Salda was booked into custody in Santa Barbara County and Foster was booked into custody at the Ventura County Sheriff’s facility. Bail for each has been set at $500,000.
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The California Department of Insurance, established in 1868, is the largest consumer protection agency in California. Insurers collect $310 billion in premiums annually in California. Since 2011 the California Department of Insurance received more than 1,000,000 calls from consumers and helped recover over $469 million in claims and premiums. Please visit the Department of Insurance website at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357. Teletypewriter (TTY), please dial 800-482-4833.