Ramey man to stand trial on forgery charges|
Thursday, September 12, 2013
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
A financial advisor accused of stealing $120,000 from a client had all charges bound over for court following a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Jerome Nevling at yesterday's session of Centralized Court held at the Clearfield County Jail.
Frank C. Stewart, 47, of Ramey is charged with six counts of forgery, theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, receiving stolen property, and access device issued to another who did not authorize use.
Stewart is accused of using his position to steal $120,000 from the victim's annuity and using it to pay off his debts.
The victim, a 73-year old Curwensville woman, testified that she did not authorize Stewart to withdraw the funds from her annuity and deposit it into his business account. Stewart was the owner of Best Insurance and Financial and was assisting her with her finances and her taxes.
The woman said when she first started using Stewart's services, she was living with her mother but she said she no longer lives in that house and has been in and out of nursing homes due to health issues.
Clearfield County District Attorney William Shaw Jr. showed the victim the cancelled check from her annuity for $120,000 and she said she didn't sign it and said it must have been forged.
He also showed her the request for withdrawal from the annuity for $120,000 and again she said she didn't sign the document.
Shaw showed her the document giving Stewart, her mother and her cousin, power of attorney and she said she did remember signing this document.
She said Stewart wanted her to give him power of attorney and he had prepared the document and said it wasn't prepared by a lawyer.
However, when shown the check to deposit $200,000 in the annuity, the victim was inconsistent and sometimes said she did remember signing it and sometimes she said she doesn't remember it. But she did say she remembered having an annuity with Sun Financial that was managed by Stewart and it contained more than $200,000.
The victim said she began using Stewart to help her with her finances sometime after 2006. She often said she couldn't remember the dates when certain events occurred.
Under cross examination by Stewart's attorney, Ron Collins of Clearfield, the woman was again inconsistent on whether she could remember the $200,000 check that was initially deposited in her annuity.
She said Stewart helped her prepare her taxes and when shown, she said did remember the tax returns that she signed that Stewart had prepared.
However, when shown other tax documents that showed she received a $120,000 in income from her annuity she said she didn't remember seeing it previously.
She also said she remembered having conversations with Stewart about her giving some gifts to family members to lower the value of her estate but said nothing was done.
When Collins asked her, the woman said her and her mother had kept large amounts of cash at their house especially before 2009 when they got a checking account.
But under re-direct by Shaw, the woman said it was in the $10,000 range and said she never received $120,000 in cash from Stewart.
Carol Stern, branch manager of the M&T Bank branch in Duncansville testified that Stewart's financial records with the bank show that on Oct. 26 he deposited a $120,000 into the account of his business Best Insurance and Financial using a check from the alleged victim.
At the time of the deposit, Stern said Stewart had $1,387 in the account.
Eight days later on Nov. 4, Stewart used $100,168 from his account to pay off a commercial loan in its entirety he had with M&T Bank.
Attorney Michael Cummings testified he was hired by the victim and her cousin after her cousin became suspicious of Stewart's activities.
Cummings said when he looked at the power of attorney documents he immediately became suspicious because as her financial advisor, Stewart should not have power of attorney because it could raise potential conflict of interest issues.
"It didn't pass the smell test," Cummings said.
Stewart said the power of attorney document had three names listed who were getting power of attorney, the victim's mother, Stewart and the victim's cousin.
Next to her mother and cousin's name it said "family" members and next to Stewart's name it said "friend."
At the request of Shaw he also read a portion of the document that stated that there would be no commingling of funds between the victim and those who had power of attorney.
Cummings said he had a new power of attorney documents drawn up that removed Stewart from having power of attorney. Once that was done he was able to access the victim's financial records and following his investigation he contacted authorities.
State Tpr. Terry Jordan testified that on Sept. 22, 2012, he asked Stewart to be interviewed. He said Stewart came to the barracks willingly and was interviewed for about three to three and a half hours.
Jordan said he asked Stewart about the $120,000 check and showed him the front of the check and asked him what had happened to the money.
He said Stewart told him that he cashed the check and gave the cash to the victim. Stewart then showed him the back of the check that was stamped "deposit only" and said Stewart then changed his story and said he gave the victim $30,000 in cash to deposit in her safe deposit box and had transported her to the CNB Bank branch in Madera to do so.
When he asked if he had any proof that he gave the alleged victim the cash, Stewart said "no."
Following the interview he went to the CNB Bank in Madera and said there are no records of the victim visiting her safe deposit box during that time period.
Inside her safe deposit box he said he found some cash and a few documents. But he said it appeared the cash had been there for a long time because the rubber bands holding it were dry rotted.
In his closing, Collins asked that all charges be dismissed saying the alleged victim's memories are inconsistent and there isn't enough evidence to bound the charges over to court.
Shaw disagreed saying there is no doubt that he took the money, deposited it in his business account and used it to pay off his debt.
Nevling said although the woman's testimony was inconsistent at times, she was consistent in her assertions that she did not sign the check for $120,000 and bound over all charges to court.
Stewart is free on $25,000 unsecured bail.