Volume 3 Number 31
July 31, 2006

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INSURANCE AGENT GETS 14-YEAR PRISON SENTENCE FOR BILKING SENIORS, OTHERS IN ANNUITIES SCAM

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that an insurance agent who bilked seven people, including senior citizens, out of more than $2 million in an annuity investment scam has been sentenced to 14 years in prison. This scam made the Department of Financial Services’ 2005-2006 Top 10 Fraud List that Gallagher issued last month.

Charles Gary Cowden, who conducted his scam through Cowden & Associates in Sanford, was sentenced Monday by Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Donna McIntosh after pleading guilty to exploitation of the elderly and six counts of grand theft. Based on the conviction, his agent license was revoked Thursday. In addition to the 14-year prison sentence, Cowden also was ordered to pay restitution, expected to be set at more than $2 million. The conviction follows an 18-month investigation by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) and the Seminole County State Attorney’s Elder Crimes Unit (SAO). The department’s Division of Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation, and the Division of Legal Services handled the revocation of Cowden’s license.

“This individual schemed to steal savings from clients who trusted him to help them in their golden years,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. “I commend the investigators and the state attorney’s office for quickly compiling the evidence needed to bring him to justice.” 

On March 2, 2005, Cowden was arrested at his home after the DIF investigation revealed he had defrauded a long-time friend into making two investments totaling $50,000 in bogus annuities. Cowden bonded out to await his trial. Then in early May 2005, the Seminole County State Attorney’s Elder Crimes Unit referred evidence to DIF that Cowden had manipulated two Green Cove Springs residents, a 77-year-old woman and an 86-year old man, to invest retirement and trust fund monies in the same bogus annuities. Cowden convinced the woman’s son to cancel the legitimate annuities that were his daughter’s college funds and “re-invest” in his bogus products. Cowden misappropriated about $2 million from these victims.

On May 11, 2005, DIF detectives and SAO investigators, assisted by Seminole County Sheriff deputies, executed a search warrant and re-arrested Cowden at his home. Search warrant evidence revealed two additional victims that Cowden defrauded while on bond from the first arrest.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance. Anyone with information about this case or another possible fraud scheme should call the department’s Fraud Fighter Hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.