CLEARFIELD – Jurors deliberated for approximately an hour Friday afternoon before finding a Ramey man guilty of stealing $120,000 from an elderly client while serving as a financial advisor in October of 2010.
Frank C. Stewart, 48, of Ramey was found guilty of theft by deception and theft by unlawful taking. He was also found guilty of one count of forgery for a handwritten note; he was found not guilty of forgery as related to an annuity check.
District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. prosecuted the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Stewart was represented by defense attorney Ron Collins. Judge Paul E. Cherry presided over the three-day trial.
Stewart will face a mandatory minimum of one year of incarceration for just the theft by deception charge since the victim was a senior citizen, said Shaw. He noted that Stewart didn’t have a prior record but has another theft case pending against him.
According to Shaw, the county’s Area Agency on Aging handles a lot of cases similar to this one. He said he was proud of the agency’s protective service’s unit and wanted the community to be aware of its work. He also commended the CCAAA, local financial institutions and state police for their efforts into the “paper-intensive” investigation.
Stewart continued testifying in his own defense when the trial resumed on Friday morning. He told jurors that he provided the victim and her mother with $120,000 in cash upon their direct receipt of an annuity check from Sun Life Financial in October of 2010. Stewart explained that he agreed to cash it for them, as they were “private people” and “didn’t want anyone to know they had that kind of money.”
“The whole transaction was kind of odd,” he said. “It wasn’t a business transaction that I had ever completed before and it’s not one that I have completed since either.”
Under cross-examination, Shaw pointed out to Stewart that he neither “volunteered his story” when he was questioned on four, different occasions by the CCAAA, nor later on during his first opportunity with Trooper Terry Jordan, a criminal investigator with the state police at Clearfield, who was assigned the case.
“You didn’t tell the agency, you didn’t tell the state police that you gave the gals $120,000 in cash from your house,” said Shaw. “You told them you took the gals to M&T Bank and they got cash. But the truth is you took the $120,000 check and deposited it into your business account.”
Stewart reiterated his story, saying he cashed the victim’s annuity check for $120,000, using his own cash from a safe at his house. Then, he said he deposited the annuity check into his business account for Best Insurance and Financial at M&T Bank in Houtzdale.
Shaw proceeded by referencing the transcript of Stewart’s interview with Jordan in which he initially claimed to take the women to M&T Bank, Houtzdale, to cash the annuity check. Shaw further pointed out that when asked, Stewart claimed they conducted the transaction with a teller and not a branch manager.
Under re-direct, Collins went back to Stewart’s interview with Jordan. He called attention to a segment in which Stewart related he had cashed the annuity check himself with cash from his safe at his house. When asked, Stewart confirmed he wasn’t trying to say that the women physically went into M&T Bank, Houtzdale, and received $120,000 for the victim’s annuity check.
During re-cross, Shaw told the court that Collins was only presenting a segment of Stewart’s interview with Jordan. He said if presented in its entirely, it’s clear that Stewart changes his story after Jordan shows him the annuity check was for deposit only. Because he felt Collins was misleading jurors, Shaw played the entire audio segment of Jordan questioning Stewart about the $120,000 annuity check.
Also, during his cross-examination, Shaw asked Stewart about his cash reserves at his house. Stewart confirmed that in 2007 and 2008, he started liquidating his IRAs, 401(k)s, etc., at which point he’d accumulated more than $200,000 in his personal safe at his house.
In his testimony, Stewart confirmed that in 2005, he’d taken out a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan at M&T Bank. He testified to historically only making very nominal interest only payments and when asked by Shaw, he indicated he’d paid out a total of $40,852 in interest before paying it off in November of 2010.
Shaw proceeded to ask Stewart about why he kept cash exceeding $200,000 at his house when he in fact had maxed out his SBA loan of $100,000. Stewart explained that he kept large sums of cash at his house not only because he was a private person, but also for personal debt and in case of emergencies.
Under cross-examination by Shaw, Stewart admitted to developing a close relationship with the victim and her mother. He admitted to being knowledgeable of their financial situation and that they had large sums of money, including an inheritance when the victim’s brother died.
In closing, Collins told jurors that the commonwealth wanted them to believe Stewart was deceiving to the victim. He said the victim was the only one involved with first-hand knowledge of what happened to the $120,000.
However, he asked jurors not to base their decision solely upon the victim’s testimony. He noted her age, disability and poor memory, which was evident as her testimony changed at times depending on how questions were phrased and who was asking them.
Collins said Stewart’s best proof was the victim and her mother; however, he’d lost both of them due to their poor health conditions. He said Stewart didn’t have any idea what the women did with the $120,000 in cash after he’d given it to them in exchange for the annuity check.
“Frank didn’t know if they were giving it as gifts or if they had it lying around the house,” he said. “He wasn’t their power of attorney or their guardian. He had no obligation to make sure it was used soundly.”
Shaw countered, arguing that while the victim was disabled, she was adamant about not receiving a $120,000 annuity check. He also stressed that Stewart initially told state police the women received cash for the annuity check at M&T Bank but changed his story to cashing it himself only after being caught in a lie.
Shaw noted that Stewart wasn’t aware that Jordan had obtained the annuity check, which showed he’d deposited it into his business account. “Frank Stewart was hoping to get them to accept his story, to fly under the radar and that it would all just go away,” he said.
He told jurors that the victim was a “trusting person,” which was “just her nature because she didn’t know any better.” He said it wasn’t reasonable to believe that the victim was a liar, as it wasn’t in her social make-up and she didn’t know how to be deceptive.
Contrary to the defense’s belief, Shaw said the commonwealth could account for the $120,000. “It went into the defendant’s business account and he paid off a line of credit,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to follow the money trail and we can prove down to the nickel where the money went.”
Shaw pointed out that Stewart had money problems and that the victim was an easy target. This, he said, created the motive for Stewart to steal, as he likely believed both the victim and her mother would die and he’d pocket $120,000 without anyone knowing it.