FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Bay Ridge Insurance Agent Pleads Guilty to Hate Crime Charges
For Targeting Elderly Victims in Financial Fraud
Defendant Stole Almost $4.5 Million in Retirement Plans and Life Savings from 21 Victims;
To Be Sentenced to Four to 12 Years in State Prison
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson today announced that a Staten Island man with a business in Bay Ridge has pleaded guilty to grand larceny as a hate crime, scheme to defraud and money laundering for targeting vulnerable, elderly victims and scamming them out of almost $4.5 million in hard-earned savings.
District Attorney Thompson said, “Shamefully, this defendant destroyed the retirements of elderly people who trusted him with their life savings. Some of them considered him a friend, but that did not stop him from taking advantage of their age and lack of financial knowledge to steal their money.”
The District Attorney said that the defendant, Paul Simoneschi, 70, of 57 Benedict Avenue, Staten Island, pleaded guilty today to first-degree scheme to defraud, first-degree money laundering and second-degree grand larceny as a hate crime before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun, who indicated he would sentence the defendant to an indeterminate term of four to 12 years in prison on March 21, 2016. Simoneschi signed judgment orders of restitution totaling $4,477,562, which is the amount he stole from his victims.
Additionally, Simoneschi’s corporation, Simmons Planning Group & Agency, Inc., pleaded guilty to first-degree scheme to defraud, first-degree money laundering and second-degree grand larceny.
The District Attorney said that between March 10, 2008 and July 29, 2015, the defendant, who is a licensed insurance agent and financial planner, owned and operated Simmons Planning Group & Agency Inc., located at 8403 7th Avenue, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and sold insurance policies and annuities to his clients.
The defendant developed long-term relationships with some of these clients, including senior citizens who were not financially savvy and over time gained the trust of his clients. Some of the clients were Italian immigrants whom he spoke to in Italian. The investigation revealed that Simoneschi stole from his clients by various means, including:
- Recommending that they surrender their insurance policies and invest the money with him. Instead of investing the money, he allegedly stole it by depositing it into his accounts that he controlled and using the money for himself.
- In other instances, he allegedly surrendered his victims’ insurance policies without their permission or knowledge, forging their names and subsequently depositing the checks into accounts that he controlled.
Simoneschi tried to conceal his crimes by providing false documents to many of his victims, including copies of “new” policies opened on their behalf. At times, he gave them checks purported to be distributions from their policies or accounts, but which were actually checks from other accounts he controlled. In total, he stole $4.477 million from 21 victims, many of whom were in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. The victims lost amounts ranging from $1,000 to over $1 million.
The District Attorney said that the scheme was discovered after the defendant contacted one of his victims to tell the victim that he should reinvest his money in a new policy. The victim declined the offer, but later discovered that his account had been raided and that only $2,000 remained when the balance should have been more than $300,000. He reported the matter to police. An investigation discovered the additional victims, who had not been aware that they had been victimized.
The case was investigated by Detective Mark Lombardo of the New York City Police Department’s 68th precinct detective squad, under the supervision of Captain Aaron Klein and Sergeant Regina Debellis.
It was additionally investigated by Detective Investigator Hubert Dixon and Supervising Detective Investigator Robert Addonizio, of the District Attorney’s Investigations Bureau, under the overall supervision Chief Investigator Richard Bellucci. Financial Investigators Ludwig Sanchez and Shaakira Calnick, also of the DA’s Office, assisted in the investigation.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Maria Leonardi and Heidi Bausk of the District Attorney’s Frauds Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Felice Sontupe, Chief of the Frauds Bureau, and the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney William E. Schaeffer, Chief of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division and Patricia McNeill, Deputy Chief of the Investigations Division.