Central Valley scammers targeting seniors headed to court
News: 2014 Press Release
FRESNO, Calif. - Gregory Alan Steen, 53, was arrested in Clovis on 13 felony counts of grand theft, 13 felony counts of embezzlement and 12 felony counts of identity theft. An investigation by the California Department of Insurance (CDI) revealed that Steen, a licensed insurance agent, was allegedly mishandling clients' funds and using them for his own benefit. This scheme involved three co-conspirators: Sara Vann, 37, of Studio City, Patricia Ramirez, 40, of Clovis, and Lisa Bennett, 44, of Fresno.
"Steen and his co-conspirators have displayed a blatant disregard of the law and has stripped consumers of their money and their trust," said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "The charges they are facing are not to be taken lightly and should make others think twice before assuming they can get away with swindling seniors."
CDI began its investigation when notified in March 2010 that Steen, a partner in Soutas and Associates Insurance Services, LLC, allegedly charged one of his clients $1,500 to oversee her elderly father's Veteran Affairs benefits and annuity funds, but failed to do so. Evidence obtained during the investigation revealed that Steen enticed his senior victims to make him the trustee on their trusts or executor of their wills, which gave him full access and control of their finances. Steen was found to blatantly disregard his customers' wishes and neglected to disperse estates to the intended beneficiaries. Investigators believe Steen targeted dozens of seniors and misappropriated more than $56,000 for his personal benefit.
In addition, Steen and his co-conspirators committed identity theft to obtain various annuities and coached their senior clients to hide assets in attempts to circumvent Medi-Cal eligibility rules to qualify or lower the senior's share of cost of coverage.
Steen was arrested January 30, 2014 and his license was suspended. However, the investigation revealed that he continued swindling more seniors after his arrest and release from jail. Steen, Vann, Ramirez and Bennett will appear in Fresno County Superior Court, Department 33, on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 8:30 a.m. for a preliminary hearing.
This case is being prosecuted by the Fresno County District Attorney's Office. If you believe that you or a family member may have been a victim of Steen, please contact local law enforcement or the California Department of Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357.
- Booking photos of Steen and his co-conspirators are available on the CDI Flickr page. www.flickr.com/ca_dept_insurance
- Arrest background:
- Gregory Alan Steen, 53, Clovis, on 13 felony counts of grand theft, 13 felony counts of embezzlement and 12 felony counts of identity theft. Steen's bail was set at $620,000.
- Sara Vann, 37, Studio City, on nine felony counts of Identity theft with bail set at $270,000.
- Patricia Ramirez, 40, Clovis, on three felony counts of grand theft, three felony counts of embezzlement, one felony count of identity theft. Ramirez's bail was set at $90,000.
- Lisa Bennett, 44, Fresno, on two felony counts of identity theft and one felony count of perjury. Bennett's bail was set at $70,000.
- Multiple annuities were written by Steen under a guise of other agents resulting in over paid commissions exceeding $150,000. The potential loss in the case exceeds $1 million dollars.
The California Department of Insurance, established in 1868, is the largest consumer protection agency in California. Insurers collect $289 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 $394 million in claims and premiums. Please visit the Department of Insurance web site at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.HELP or 213.897.8921. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.