In No. 149 (posted March 14, 2016) I discussed a federal criminal case against five defendants involving issuance of phony life insurance policies. In No. 210 (March 27, 2017) I provided an update on the case. Here I provide a further update. (See U.S. v. Halali, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Case No. 3:14-cr-627.)
In December 2014 the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco filed the indictment. The defendants were Karen Gagarin, Behnam Halali, Kraig Jilge, Ernesto Magat, and Alomkone Soundara. They worked for several years as independent contractors selling life insurance for American Income Life Insurance Company.
The indictment alleged that the defendants engaged in wrongdoing that caused the company to pay more than $2.5 million in commissions and bonuses. Specifically the indictment alleged that the defendants paid recruiters to find individuals willing to take a medical examination in exchange for about $100, took personal information and submitted applications for life insurance in many cases without the individual's knowledge, in some cases created fraudulent drivers' licenses, opened hundreds of bank accounts from which to pay premiums, typically paid one to four months of premiums before allowing the policies to lapse, returned verification calls to the company purporting to be the applicants, used phony addresses on many applications in an effort to avoid detection, and fabricated the names of policy beneficiaries.
The indictment charged each defendant with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 14 counts of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. The indictment also charged three of the defendants with money laundering: three counts against Magat, two counts against Jilge, and one count against Halali. In February 2016 U.S. Senior District Judge Susan Illston denied a motion to dismiss filed by four of the defendants. She set the case for trial in early 2017.
In December 2016 Soundara pleaded guilty to all 16 counts against him and agreed to testify for the government. In January 2017 Judge Illston set the trial date, said Jilge intended to plead guilty, and said the trial defendants were Halali, Magat, and Gagarin. Jilge pleaded guilty to most of the charges against him but did not plead guilty to the two money laundering charges against him. Judge Illston vacated the trial as to Jilge.
The trial began on February 15, 2017, consisted of 14 trial days, and ended on March 13. The jury found Halali, Magat, and Gagarin guilty on the conspiracy charge, the 14 wire fraud charges, and one money laundering charge. Judge Illston set sentencing for July 21.
On January 5, 2018, after the filing of post-trial motions, and after the filing of sentencing memoranda, Judge Illston sentenced Halali, Magat, and Gagarin. She filed a judgment against Gagarin on January 9, and judgments against Halali and Magat on January 10. Here is a brief summary of the sentences:
Halali: 60 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release with special conditions, a special assessment of $1,600, restitution of $2,837,791.93 (joint and several with the co-defendants), no fine, no forfeiture, and self surrender on March 30, 2018.
Magat: 48 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release with special conditions, a special assessment of $1,600, restitution of $2,837,791.93 (joint and several with the co-defendants), no fine, no forfeiture, and self surrender on March 30, 2018.
Gagarin: 36 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release with special conditions, a special assessment of $1,600, restitution of $2,837,791.93 (joint and several with the co-defendants), no fine, no forfeiture, and self surrender on March 30, 2018.
On January 16 Halali waived his right to appeal. On January 22 Gagarin filed a notice of appeal. The next day the appellate court issued an order under which briefing is to be completed by June 13. (See U.S. v. Gagarin, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 18-10026.)
On January 23 Judge Illston set sentencing of Soundara for March 23. On the same day Jilge filed a sentencing memorandum in which he seeks to avoid prison time. The government's reply memorandum is expected soon, and sentencing of Jilge is set for February 16.
The Plea Agreements
Plea agreements often contain important information I share with readers. In this case I have not been able to obtain the Jilge and Soundara plea agreements. They were filed in open court, are listed in the docket, and are not marked as sealed. However, when I sought them from the court file, the message in each instance was: "You do not have permission to view this document." I do not know why the plea agreements are unavailable, but perhaps they will become available eventually.
Life insurance performs important social functions, not the least of which is to provide financial protection for the insured's loved ones. Yet, as often said, life insurance is sold, not bought. Thus it is necessary to pay commissions to agents who perform the many functions associated with the sale of life insurance including, most importantly, what I call the "antiprocrastination function." It is disgraceful when agents engage in criminal behavior to increase their commissions.
This case involved atrocious activity by the defendants. The evidence was so overwhelming that I thought the case would not go to trial, and that all five defendants would plead guilty. I was wrong; only two pleaded guilty and the other three went to trial. I was not surprised by the jury findings or by the judgments imposed on the defendants who went to trial. I plan to report on further developments in the case.
In Nos. 149 and 210 I offered complimentary PDFs containing important case documents. Those two packages are still available.
Now I am offering a new complimentary 37-page PDF consisting of the judgment against Gagarin (7 pages), the judgment against Magat (8 pages), the judgment against Halali (8 pages), Halali's waiver of appeal (2 pages), Gagarin's notice of appeal (1 page), and Jilge's sentencing memorandum (11 pages). Email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for the February 2018 package about the Halali case.