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Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Celina insurance agent sentenced for theft, forgeries

By Margie Wuebker
A local insurance agent was sentenced to community control sanctions in Mercer County Common Pleas Court last week after admitting he bilked an elderly client out of more than $38,000. He has also been implicated in similar cases in Van Wert County as well as Jay County, Ind.
James E. Miller, 51, 3882 Mud Pike, had pleaded guilty earlier to a bill of information charging him with one count of theft by deception, a third-degree felony, and seven counts of forgery, all fifth-degree felonies.
Miller admitted taking $38,231.31 from a 71-year-old Fort Recovery client. The man, who appeared in the courtroom with his wife, reportedly trusted the sales representatives explicitly and essentially paid whatever premium the sales representative asked. In addition, he made out his personal checks to Miller.
According to court documents, the theft offense occurred between Sept. 26, 2003, to Sept. 21, 2006. Additionally, the forgery charges stem from Miller forging the names of people on insurance applications between September 2004 and June 2006.
The terms of CCS imposed by Ingraham included up to five years supervision and full restitution to the victim. He also ordered up to 90 days in jail to be served upon notice from his probation officer. This is typically done in the event of a violation.
The judge also warned Miller that prison sentences - three years on the theft charges and one year on each of the forgery charges - were likely in the event of a violation. The one-year terms would be served concurrently but consecutively to the three-year theft sentence.
Barbara A. Grinstead, a senior internal auditor and investigator for Western & Southern Financial Group in Cincinnati, addressed the court pointing out "Our sales representatives are the human face of the communities in which we operate. We entrust our sales representatives with a tremendous amount of responsibility when dealing with our customers. James Miller violated our trust."
According to Grinstead, Miller eventually confessed to his crimes. However, he withheld information as to the extent of the fraud and caused Western & Southern officials to spend weeks investigating numerous checks, signatures and transactions.
She asked the court for two things - an order for full restitution to the victim and a sentence commensurate with the financial and psychological harm the defendant caused.
Defense attorney William Vandemark said his client has shown remorse for his actions and is trying his best to make restitution. He pointed out sanctions rather than incarceration would give Miller the opportunity to continue paying back what he took. The husband and father of four reportedly has found employment outside the insurance sector and is undergoing counseling.
"He found himself in a financial bind," Vandemark said. "He used unfortunate decision making in an attempt to resolve his problems."
Miller, who had been sentenced earlier in the day to CCS in connection with a Van Wert case, took advantage of an opportunity to address the court. "I just made huge mistakes," he said shrugging his shoulders and letting his words trail off into silence.
"You turned your profession into an opportunity to prey on clients who trusted you," Ingraham said. "Your unfortunate decisions led to multiple felonious crimes."
Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox questioned Miller's remorse, adding the defendant may be sorry he committed the offenses but has indicated no remorse for the financial and psychological concerns he caused victims.
Miller reportedly took $2,100 from a Van Wert County victim, according to Van Wert Police Detective William Trobaugh. The victim apparently purchased an insurance policy in 2003 and paid the full premium up front. However, Miller kept much of the money for his own use and only paid a minimal amount before the policy went delinquent. Indiana officials have decided not to pursue legal action in the Jay County case.
Fort Recovery Police Chief Jared Laux called the investigation the largest and most in-depth involving white collar crime the department has handled. He said many of the victims in the forgery cases had spoken with Miller and he gained their trust.
"He wrote checks to himself telling clients he could get a better deal for them that way," Laux said. "This was the most time consuming case that involved sorting through papers and lots of numbers."
Laux credited Celina Police Detective Ron Waltmire who assisted with the investigation. The agency was initially contacted by Western & Southern officials before it was determined Fort Recovery Police had jurisdiction.
Additional online story on this date
The body of a 23-year-old Lima man shot and killed early Friday morning at a farmhouse near Kossuth was found in the backseat of a car with a bullet wound to the head. [More]
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