Ex-insurance agent serving 10 years in prison denied parole
News: 2018 Press Release
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Joseph Anthony Mele, 33, of Ventura was denied parole last week because the court found he still poses an unreasonable risk of violence to the community. In January 2016, Mele was sentenced to 10 years in state prison after pleading no contest to multiple felony counts including financial elder abuse, grand theft and embezzlement.
“Mele’s parole denial keeps him where he belongs and is further vindication for his victims,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “The hard work of investigators and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney uncovered his crimes, built a strong case and sends a message to anyone who targets seniors with financial scams.”
A former insurance agent, Mele gained the trust of two elderly victims, ages 93 and 74, and acted as their financial planner. He purchased, sold and repurchased long-term annuities without their knowledge, which ultimately resulted in the victims losing over $2 million combined.
Mele twisted and churned the victims’ policies, a deceptive practice of rewriting annuities in order to obtain additional commissions under the guise of providing better returns. Mele earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions through these deceptive practices and caused the victims to incur over $650,000 in surrender fees, penalties and lost premiums.
Thanks to the persistence of Department of Insurance investigators, the victims received all of the surrender fees, penalties and interest back from the insurance companies. One victim feared she might lose her home, but the recovered money allowed her to stay. The department recovered over $650,000 in restitution for these victims.
In addition to these deceptive sales practices, Mele advised the 93-year-old victim to sign blank checks totaling over $800,000 so he could invest the funds for her. The money was not invested, but instead deposited into Mele’s personal bank account and used for entertainment, elaborate vacations, gambling, and plastic surgery. The elements of the case continue to be under investigation.
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- Parole Decision
- Joseph Anthony Mele's arrest photo.
- Joseph Anthony Mele was doing business as Mele & Associates Senior Insurance Services in Ventura.
- He was arrested on June 3, 2015.
- Consumers considering annuities as an investment, should read all materials carefully, have a trusted family member or friend review all documents and contact the Department of Insurance Consumer Services toll-free hotline at 800-927-4357 with any questions or concerns.
- Commissioner Jones has sponsored several pieces of legislation that provide new protections for seniors and consumers buying annuities, to avoid these types of scams.
- AB689 (Blumenfield) requires agents and brokers to verify that an annuity transaction is appropriate for the consumer, based on an evaluation of a number of factors. In cases where the sale is found inappropriate, the agent faces revocation of their license, fines and restoration of the consumers' financial losses.
- AB2347 (Gonzalez) requires enhanced annuity disclosures to make sure all insurance investment annuities have consumer protections that are easy to read and understand.
- AB793 (Eng) makes the cross-selling of reverse equity mortgages and annuities illegal. The law is designed to stop the predatory practices of insurance agents and brokers who know that a senior has recently acquired a reverse mortgage to inappropriately steer them into tying up those same funds in an annuity or other non-casualty product.
Led by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, the California Department of Insurance is the consumer protection agency for the nation's largest insurance marketplace and safeguards all of the state’s consumers by fairly regulating the insurance industry. Under the Commissioner’s direction, the Department uses its authority to protect Californians from insurance rates that are excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory, oversee insurer solvency to pay claims, set standards for agents and broker licensing, perform market conduct reviews of insurance companies, resolve consumer complaints, and investigate and prosecute insurance fraud. Consumers are urged to call 1-800-927-4357 with any questions or contact us at www.insurance.ca.gov via webform or online chat. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357. Teletypewriter (TTY), please dial 800-482-4833.