Culver City Edition

Local insurance agent accused of embezzlement

LOS ANGELES — Steven Edward Branstetter, 60, of Culver City, has been arrested on 13 felony counts of theft from an elder and grand theft for allegedly embezzling over $2.25 million in insurance premiums from 18 Southland victims over nine years.

After receiving a complaint from Branstetter’s clients who were unable to cash in their annuities, the state Department of Insurance Investigation Division discovered Branstetter allegedly issued fraudulent annuity contracts and life and disability insurance policies and stole their premiums for his personal use.

Branstetter allegedly targeted his victims, many of them senior citizens, between 2005 and 2014 through his business, LifeCo, allegedly convincing many of them to surrender legitimate policies in order to purchase life and disability policies he was selling under the name AIIA Group, a statement issued by the state Department of Insurance said.

“Branstetter’s alleged crimes make this one of the worst cases of senior financial abuse we have seen in a while,” state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said. “He ruthlessly targeted vulnerable seniors, taking their money, making big promises and leaving them with worthless pieces of paper and no coverage.”

Formerly a licensed life agent, Branstetter’s license expired in 2013 and he did not attempt to renew it. He continued his scam after his license expired.

Bail has been set at $715,000 and the Department of Insurance has filed a bail motion that requires Branstetter to prove bail funds are not from his ill-gotten gains. This case is being prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Elder Abuse Section.

Senior citizens are often the targets of scam artists and unscrupulous agents or brokers, Jones said. Seniors and their loved ones need to be careful when considering annuities and life insurance investment products to make sure the products are appropriate for their needs.

The Department of Insurance offers information to help consumers evaluate insurance product investments. Consumers should also verify the license status of any agent or broker to make sure they have a valid license with no disciplinary actions pending against them, and lastly, consumers should always contact the insurance company listed on the policy to ensure the company actually has a policy on file.

Consumers may also contact the Department of Insurance Consumer Hotline for assistance in verifying an agent or broker license and insurance policies by calling toll-free (800) 927-4357.