CLEARFIELD – The trial continued yesterday in Clearfield County Court for a man accused of stealing $120,000 from an elderly client while serving as a financial advisor.
Frank C. Stewart, 48, of Ramey is facing charges of forgery, two counts; theft by unlawful taking; and theft by deception. He’s free on $25,000 unsecured bail.
District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. is prosecuting the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Stewart is being represented by defense attorney Ron Collins.
Judge Paul E. Cherry is presiding over the case. The trial will resume at 9 a.m. today.
Michael Bacher, who was formerly a protective services case manager with the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging Inc., testified first. On May 7, 2012, he was assigned to handle a “report of need” for an alleged financial exploitation, which involved Stewart as the suspect.
He interviewed the alleged victim and her mother to “pull the pieces together” and planned with them to proceed with an investigation. He also received a telephone call from Stewart about the report received by the agency.
The next day, Bacher met with Stewart at the CCAAA office. During that initial meeting, he said the defendant advised he’d come to know the alleged victim and her mother when he started handling their taxes. Bacher said they discussed the women’s assets and Stewart mentioned a $100,000 annuity.
On May 30, 2012, he said Stewart came into the CCAAA office, at which time he cooperated in providing paperwork, such as tax and annuity receipts, bills, pre-purchased funeral arrangements, etc. The “biggest red flag,” he said, was the annuity because $200,000 had been invested and not $100,000 as Stewart had previously advised him.
Upon investigation Bacher also found that $120,000 had been withdrawn from the alleged victim’s Sun Life Financial annuity in October of 2010. When he asked Stewart about the $120,000 withdrawal, Stewart claimed he didn’t know anything about it but thought the alleged victim cashed the annuity check.
On Aug. 1, 2012, he talked by phone with Stewart about what might have happened with the $120,000. Stewart told him that the alleged victim had requested for it to be withdrawn from her annuity and she and her mother had cashed it. However, he didn’t have any idea what the women did with the cash afterward.
According to Bacher, Stewart mentioned the women had a safe deposit box at CNB Bank in Madera. He thought it was possible that the women could have placed the cash from the annuity check there. Bacher subsequently asked Stewart to provide him with a written statement regarding the missing $120,000.
At this point, Bacher said the missing $120,000 was the “big snag” keeping him from completing his investigation. He said although Stewart had provided him with a lot of financial paperwork for the women, none of it accounted for the $120,000 withdrawn from the alleged victim’s annuity.
On Aug. 9, 2012, Bacher said he’d spoken to Stewart, who wasn’t sure what to put in his written statement. When Stewart arrived to the CCAAA office, he appeared very nervous. Further, Bacher said the defendant was shaking, his voice was cracking and he was sweating profusely.
Bacher said Stewart told him he was against the alleged victim withdrawing the $120,000 from her Sun Life Financial annuity. He said he felt it wasn’t in her best interest, but she got the $120,000 in the form of a check, which she cashed at M&T Bank in Houtzdale.
On multiple occasions, he said Stewart told him he didn’t have any idea what the women did with the $120,000. Because Stewart couldn’t substantiate what happened to the $120,000, Bacher said he engaged the state police at Clearfield to initiate a criminal investigation.
Under cross-examination, Bacher said when he reviewed the alleged victim’s financial documents, everything appeared normal, except the $200,000 withdrawal from the checking in October of 2009. As a result, Bacher said the CCAAA studied this transaction the hardest.
Later, he said the CCAAA found the alleged victim had purchased an annuity with Sun Life Financial. And, he said they also had documents showing a withdrawal of $120,000 from the annuity almost one year later.
When asked by Collins, Bacher said both Stewart and the alleged victim’s cousin had advised the CCAAA that the women kept large amounts of money around their house. He said it was his impression that they used cash to obtain money orders for bill payments.
At one point in his investigation, he said they hadn’t been able to substantiate what happened to the $120,000. He said because banking documents didn’t show a large deposit anywhere, he felt it was reasonable that the women did take the cash to their house.
Under re-direct, Shaw inquired about Bacher’s dealings with the alleged victim’s cousin, Judy Cartwright. He said Cartwright was upset with him and felt he was showing favoritism toward Stewart, as they lived in the same neighborhood of Ramey.
He explained that early on in his investigation, he didn’t have a copy of the $120,000 check from Sun Life Financial. He said that it was later provided to him by either Cartwright or her attorney, Eric Cummings. The check, he said, made it “quite easy” to follow the $120,000 to Stewart’s business account for Best Insurance and Financial.
Amanda LeGars, a protective services supervisor with the CCAAA, testified that the agency received a report of need in May of 2012 for alleged financial exploitation. On Aug. 9, 2012, she was present when Stewart came into the CCAAA office about their request for a written statement regarding what happened to the missing $120,000.
Like Bacher, she said that Stewart told them on multiple occasions that the women took the $120,000 check for the annuity and cashed it. She said he claimed to know nothing more about what happened beyond that.
According to her, the CCAAA’s investigation ultimately resulted in the conclusion that Stewart deposited the $120,000 into his business account. “Nothing,” she said, went to the alleged victim, as it went “straight” to Best Insurance and Financial. Due to these findings, she said they subsequently filed a report with the state police at Clearfield.
Cartwright took the stand and told jurors that she became concerned about her aunt and cousin in November of 2011. Around that time, she said her aunt fell and was in Clearfield Hospital. Cartwright went with her cousin to see her aunt and Stewart showed up at the hospital.
According to her, she couldn’t understand why her aunt’s insurance representative would visit her at the hospital. She said Stewart continued to show up at the hospital almost daily during her week-long stay, which made her uncomfortable.
When her aunt was placed in Windy Hill Village, Cartwright said she went to visit with her on a regular basis. She said that Stewart would come and bring her cousin. “I thought it was beyond the call of an insurance man,” said Cartwright.
During visits with her aunt, she described Stewart as being overly friendly and very personal, and she found this to be peculiar. When her aunt returned home from Windy Hill, she said Stewart would bring her cakes, flowers, etc. and her aunt treated him like her son.
“I thought, ‘if he’s an insurance man, why all of the personal attention?” testified Cartwright. “I have an insurance man. He doesn’t bring me cakes or flowers. He doesn’t check in on my home for no reason.”
According to her, when she learned of the $200,000 withdrawal from her cousin’s checking account, she found it strange. She said her aunt and cousin were “frugal” and “made the most of every dollar.”
Cartwright said her initial thought was that Stewart took the money. She took her concerns to the CCAAA and wasn’t completely satisfied with the result. Cartwright went to Cummings and worked with him to obtain Sun Life Financial documents, including the $120,000 annuity check written to her cousin.
She said she was positive her cousin didn’t have $120,000 and didn’t think she’d withdraw the money from her annuity. She explained that her aunt and cousin kept money in a teapot at their house for bills and other needs. When they were placed in nursing homes, she took the teapot of money and counted $750.
Trooper Terry Jordan, a criminal investigator with the state police at Clearfield, testified last on behalf of the commonwealth. He was assigned the investigation on Aug. 22, 2012 after the CCAAA contacted the state police.
As part of his investigation, he interviewed Stewart and specifically asked him about the $120,000 withdrawn from the alleged victim’s Sun Life Financial annuity. Stewart, he said, initially claimed that the alleged victim and her mother cashed the check at M&T Bank in Houtzdale.
Jordan said that Stewart mentioned the women might have placed a portion of the cash into a safe deposit box at CNB Bank in Madera. Stewart, he said, thought the women had about $30,000 in the safe deposit box.
Later in the interview, Jordan flipped over the $120,000 annuity check from Sun Life Financial. He pointed out to Stewart that it said for deposit only into a business account for Best Insurance and Financial.
According to him, Stewart started to “back pedal” and claimed he provided the alleged victim and her mother with $120,000 cash from a safe in his home. Then, he said he took the $120,000 annuity check to deposit into his business account. However, he said Stewart was unable to prove he’d given $120,000 to the alleged victim.
Stewart took the stand in his own defense yesterday afternoon. He said he initially handled taxes for the alleged victim and her mother and developed an “instant connection.” Stewart said the women were familiar with some of his family members.
Over time he said his “professional relationship” grew with the women who asked him to check in on them. At this point, he said there were conversations among them about preparing for the future and the alleged victim purchasing an annuity.
According to Stewart, the alleged victim purchased a $200,000 annuity and he completed the application process for her in October of 2009. He said the following fall, he completed an annuity withdrawal form for $120,000 per the request of the alleged victim.
When the women received the check, Stewart said he got a telephone call. He scheduled an appointment to meet with them about handling the annuity check. Stewart said the women wanted cash and for him to facilitate the transaction.
“I don’t think any of us are foolish enough to think that you can just walk into a bank, cash a check and get $120,000,” he said. Stewart said he took $120,000 from a safe at his house and gave it to the alleged victim, since the women wanted to cash the annuity check.
After that Stewart said he took the annuity check to M&T Bank to deposit it into his business account. Because the check wasn’t written to him, he had the alleged victim sign the check payable to Best Insurance and Financial and accompany him to the bank.
Stewart said he felt he had an exchange with the alleged victim after which he considered the annuity check his own money. He said he’d been trying to hold out on paying off a $100,000 line of credit but decided it was time to just do it.
Stewart said when he delivered the $120,000 in cash to the women he also had a handwritten receipt, which he had them sign. He requested that they keep the receipt with their annuity policy. Stewart indicated that it wasn’t a company receipt form, as it wasn’t the typical transaction.