Exploiting the elderly lands man in prison

Man who took advantage of elderly is punished

August 13, 2002|By MICHAEL OLESKER

GERALD Miller Jr. was a real good piece of work. He resides now somewhere in the bowels of the Maryland prison system. In a world of eye-for-an-eye justice, he should stay there until he reaches the age of his victims. One, the oldest, was a 94-year old woman. Another victim was 84. He was the youngest.

Miller, 39, was an insurance salesman who went bad. His employer, United American Insurance Co., fired him in July of last year after some clients started complaining. So Miller got a swell idea: He could still collect clients' premiums - he'd just keep the money for himself.

"But it didn't work for very long," Ron Sallow, associate commissioner of the Maryland Insurance Fraud Division, was saying the other day. "This was one of those occasions where everybody in the system did what they were supposed to do, and it worked out well."

Four months before he was fired, Miller went to Richard Brumbaugh, 84. Brumbaugh lives in the Loring-Byers Funeral Home in Randallstown. Miller was his insurance agent. The monthly payments, $110.95, were paid through electronic bank drafts.

Now Miller told Brumbaugh, "Your premium was late. So you have to pay $135. In cash."

In later months, Miller would visit the funeral home and take checks - but the checks were to be made out directly to Miller himself.

In December, Miller called Brumbaugh to say he'd be dropping by the funeral home to pick up the monthly check. Brumbaugh mentioned it to John Evans, director of the establishment.

"That's unusual," Evans said. He is a retired Maryland Transportation Authority police sergeant.

"He always does it this way," Brumbaugh said.

"Not anymore," Evans said.

By then, United American Insurance exec Del Smith had received several phone calls from other clients and fired Miller. Then he notified the Life and Health Unit of the Maryland Insurance Fraud Division, where an investigator named Joe Wolfe quickly spotted the look of misappropriated money.

He sent the case to Sallow, the associate commissioner.

"It was apparent," Sallow said, "that we had more than a passing problem. We had a guy targeting the elderly and coercing them into giving him money. He did it by being smooth, and by intimidating them. They were elderly. They said they didn't want to give him cash. He made them do it anyway."

By now, Brumbaugh's wasn't the only case. A few months after he was fired, Miller went to Mildred Corkran, 94, who lives at the Oak Crest Village retirement community in Parkville.

She didn't know Miller had been fired, and so she trusted him. Miller said she needed to pay her entire annual payment of $1,280. He said he would help her, by making out the check for her. He made the check out - to himself - and Corkran signed it.

In that same period, Miller went to Oak Crest to see William Bundick. He is 85. Miller told him his annual premium was due. Miller took one of Bundick's checks, wrote out the amount of $1,472 in his own name and had Bundick sign it.

All told, Miller collected about $5,300 from these three victims, and imagined he was just beginning to see a swell new financial venture.

By Christmas, though, Sallow had given the case to investigator Nancy Brown. She took the work home over the holidays, and then went to Emmet Davitt, an assistant attorney general who is lead counsel to the Insurance Fraud Division.

By January, they had enough information to present charges to a Baltimore County court commissioner. "We wanted Miller to know we were looking for him, so he'd stop what he was doing," Sallow said. "But the guy didn't stop. He kept going to people's houses, and making them give him their money, and keeping it."

By the end of the month, investigators had more than a dozen additional insurance complaints against him. Also, a charge of stolen auto tags. Also, credit cards taken from insurance clients. Also, evidence that Miller took one woman's ATM card and removed all money from her account.

"We're dealing with a real star here," Sallow said.

On Feb. 12, Miller was indicted on 22 counts of misappropriation of insurance money and theft. In May, he pleaded guilty to two felony thefts and one misdemeanor. Two weeks ago, before sentencing by Baltimore County Circuit Judge John Turnbull II, Miller said he'd been a heroin addict since 1998. Turnbull gave him 10 years in prison.

"Financial exploitation of the elderly is a serious problem," said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who termed Miller's actions "egregious."

"We hope this sentence will discourage similar acts."

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