Investment Advisor and Father Charged with Stealing $175,000 from Elderly Widow

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP) announced today that a Toms River investment advisor and his father were indicted for allegedly stealing $175,000 from a widow, who had entrusted the son with power of attorney.

Andrew M. Lesnak, 54, and his father Andrew G. Lesnak, 84, of Hampton Bays, N.Y., were charged today by the state grand jury with second-degree conspiracy, second-degree theft by unlawful taking, second-degree theft by deception and three counts of second-degree financial facilitation of criminal activity.

The younger Lesnak was an investment advisor for the widow and her husband. Following her husband’s death in 2007, the 69-year-old widow, who had no children or relatives close-by, turned to Lesnak for help with her finances.

OIFP is alleging that in 2010, the younger Lesnak allegedly convinced the widow to surrender an annuity product. Lesnak allegedly applied $175,000 of those annuity proceeds towards two cashier’s checks. The first check, in the amount of $168,152.66, was made out to Chase Home Equity. The second check, in the amount of $6,847.34, was made out to Chase Bank.

The state is alleging that the defendants, without the widow’s knowledge or consent, used the larger check to pay off a home equity line of credit held against the elder Lesnak’s home in Pine Brook. The smaller check was allegedly deposited into the elder Lesnak’s checking account. Later an identical amount was withdrawn from that account in cash. On the same day, that amount (to the dollar), was deposited into the younger Lesnak’s business account.

“The defendants allegedly exploited a woman who needed sound investment support in her retirement years, despicably using her life savings as a piggy bank for them to plunder,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Many senior citizens have family and friends to guide them through managing their retirement, but unfortunately many fall prey to conscienceless opportunists.”

“The alleged crimes in this case are disturbing, but are made even more despicable given that the victim turned to the defendant in a time of need,” said Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Ronald Chillemi. “Where most advisors would seek to lead their clients to a good investment, the defendants allegedly saw a financial opportunity for themselves.”

In February 2012, the widow entered an assisted living facility. She grew suspicious of the younger Lesnak when he would not respond to her calls. A new attorney-in-fact discovered a significant amount of her assets were not accounted for. In addition to other transactions, the new attorney-in-fact questioned the two cashier’s checks totaling $175,000 because the widow did not have any accounts at Chase.

The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $150,000.

Deputy Attorney Oriana Nadraga presented the case to the grand jury. DAG Nadraga, lead Detective Jacqueline Latty, Detective Ralph Anilo, and Principal Research Analyst Bethany Schussler coordinated the investigation. Sgt. Joseph Jaruszewski provided assistance. Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Ronald Chillemi thanked Ombudsman James W. McCracken and the New Jersey Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly for referring the matter.

Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Chillemi noted that some important cases have started with anonymous tips. People who are concerned about insurance cheating and have information about a fraud can report it anonymously by calling the toll-free hotline at 1-877-55-FRAUD, or visiting the Web site at www.NJInsurancefraud.org. State regulations permit a reward to be paid to an eligible person who provides information that leads to an arrest, prosecution and conviction for insurance fraud.