California Department of Insurance detectives arrested two women Thursday on charges of financial elder abuse against an elderly woman.
Insurance agent Erica Salda and financial adviser Wendy Foster allegedly began their fraud in 2005, when the then 89-year-old victim had a multimillion dollar investment portfolio. Ms. Salda and Ms. Foster persuaded the woman to leave the licensed professionals who had been managing her estate, liquidate her entire portfolio and invest $3 million in two annuity policies.
Over the next two years, the two women allegedly sold the victim an additional 23 annuities, many purchased without her consent. Ms. Salda collected commissions in excess of $1 million, while Ms. Foster collected $400,000 in fees for acting as the victim's trustee, according to California Department of Insurance.
Ms. Salda and Ms. Foster allegedly isolated the victim from family and friends, making her rely on the women to handle her daily needs. Investigators says the victim rewarded Ms. Salda and Ms. Foster with tens of thousands of dollars in cash gifts and the use of her luxury automobile. The women also convinced the victim to pay for Ms. Foster's childrens' education, including $20,000 for one daughter to spend a year studying in China.
"It is repugnant that professionals in positions of great trust, like an insurance agent and financial adviser, would target and steal from a vulnerable senior," insurance commissioner Ricardo Lara said in a statement. "While the vast majority of licensed agents do not commit fraud, it is important for consumers and their families to be alert for warning signs of abuse."
Ms. Salda operates her firm, E-Pro Insurance Agency, from her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. Ms. Foster operates from her residence in the nearby town of Oxnard.
According to officials, Ms. Foster has no prior experience as a fiduciary or attorney-in-fact. She also allegedly failed to disclose to the victim that she had declared personal bankruptcy, been sued for fraud by the Federal Trade Commission, and was in a romantic relationship with Ms. Salda.
Ms. Salda and Ms. Foster face charges of conspiracy, theft from an elder adult and multiple accounts of insurance fraud. Bail was set at $500,000 each. The victim passed away in 2018.