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Justus Viatical Group Owner Sentenced to Three Years after Pleading Guilty to Numerous Counts of Grand Theft

7/16/2003

CONTACT: Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842

TALLAHASSEE -- The owner of the now-defunct Justus Viatical Group LLC, based in Pompano Beach, will serve three years in state prison after pleading guilty to17 counts of grand theft stemming from a scheme to defraud insurance companies out of $3 million by lying on insurance applications involved in viatical settlement transactions.

Scott Stephan, 41, formerly of 899 SW 19th St., Boca Raton, was sentenced late last week in Broward County Circuit Court. In addition to the prison time, he also was sentenced to five years probation and was ordered to pay more than $21,000 in investigative costs to the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, and the Office of Statewide Prosecution.

"Viatical fraud poses a serious financial risk for both consumers and investors, many of whom are senior citizens who invest their life savings in these policies," said Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. "I applaud the investigators and prosecutor for gathering all the facts that led to this agent's plea."

Justus, formerly located at 440 E. Sample Rd. in Pompano Beach, was a viatical settlement provider, an entity that arranges for investors to fund the purchase of life insurance polices from insureds who are usually terminally ill or elderly. The investors pay the premiums and become the beneficiaries and receive the death benefit from the insurance company upon the insured's death. The insureds, known as viators, get a portion of the face value of their policies.


A 1999 statewide grand jury indictment alleged that Stephan and a Justus employee, Stephen J. Bendfelt, helped terminally ill individuals file phony applications for life insurance policies that were then sold to investors. Covering up a medical condition on an application is called "cleansheeting."

In 1998, Justus applied for licensure as a viatical settlement provider with the then-Florida Department of Insurance. A regulatory audit conducted by the department's Bureau of Specialty Insurers, as part of the licensing process, uncovered the cleansheeting scheme.

In January 1999, the Division of Insurance Fraud executed a search warrant at the Pompano Beach offices of Justus. Numerous viatical settlement files were seized that exhibited evidence of cleansheeting. Nine months later, Stephan and Bendfelt were indicted by a statewide grand jury convened to examine the growing problem of viatical fraud.

Investors lost money when many of the policies Justus had secured were cancelled or rescinded by insurance companies after the fraud was uncovered.

The indictment alleged that Bendfelt used his Florida insurance agent's license to submit applications for policies on people he knew had pre-existing terminal illnesses, but failed to disclose their conditions on the applications. Bendfelt pleaded guilty in April to the same charges as Stephan. Both men surrendered their agent licenses and have agreed to cooperate with investigators and prosecutors.

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 or another possible fraud scheme should call the department's fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 is offered for information leading to a conviction.

For more information about viatical settlement transactions, visit the department's web site at www.fldfs.com or call the Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762.