MONTANA STATE AUDITOR JOHN MORRISON CHARGES TROY MAN CRIMINALLY WITH SECURITIES FRAUD
HELENA, Mont., January 14, 2005 -- Montana State Auditor John Morrison filed criminal charges of elder exploitation and securities fraud last week against Martin Bower, a Troy insurance agent with Banker's Life and Casualty Company. The charges were filed in both Lake and Flathead counties. Yesterday, Bower was arraigned in Lake County. Public defender Larry Nistler was appointed to represent Bower on the Lake County charges. Bower was arrested on a Flathead County warrant during a break in the administrative hearing addressing the same facts supporting the criminal charges.
Last November, Morrison issued two cease and desist orders against Bower. The first cease and desist order alleged that Bower violated the Securities Act of Montana by giving investment advice without being properly licensed to do so. The second order alleged that Bower violated the Insurance Act of Montana by using fraudulent, coercive and dishonest practices and undue pressure in his sales tactics in targeting senior citizens and advising them to buy annuities. Bower's insurance license was revoked at that time.
The orders alleged that Bower misled two elderly Montana women, one residing in an assisted living facility in Kalispell and the second suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease, by advising them to liquidate their securities portfolios without discussing the financial consequences. The order further alleged that Bower advised these elderly women to then invest the proceeds in an annuity offered by Banker's Life and Casualty Company.
"Montana senior citizens should be able to feel that their investments are suitable and their retirement is secure," said Morrison, Montana's Securities Commissioner. "This is a matter of consumer protection. We will not allow people who don't play by the rules to coerce senior citizens to buy inappropriate investment products."
Morrison has indicated his concern about the suitability of some investments for senior citizens, particularly certain annuity products and viaticals.
"Investors must be fully informed before they make decisions to buy or sell securities or annuities," Morrison said. "They should obtain full disclosure about any investment opportunity and consult an expert before investing."
If consumers are concerned about persons offering investment advice they should call the Auditor's office toll free at 800-332-6148 to verify their expertise.
He said investors should understand whether there are financial consequences with the sale of a security, such as a capital gains tax or deferred sales charges. Investors also need to realize the risks and obligations of investing in annuities. There may be a lengthy holding period, penalties for early withdrawal, a lack of liquidity or other significant factors.
Bower allegedly came directly to the Kalispell assisted living facility to transact business with the elderly, 87-year old woman and the Pablo home of the 77-year old Alzheimer's victim. He has been ordered to stop advising or counseling people in Montana about investment opportunities.
Individuals found guilty of elder exploitation could face up to a $50,000 fine and/or ten years in prison. A guilty verdict in a securities fraud charge would bring a penalty of $5,000 and ten years in prison.
"This office will continue to pursue courses of action that protect Montana consumers, particularly our seniors, who are victims of a larger percentage of scams than any other segment of society," Morrison said. "We will not tolerate the actions of individuals who target this segment of society and prey on their vulnerabilities."