Court hears in­ner work­ings of SC Ir­ish Trav­el­ers’ in­sur­ance scam

The State - - Local - BY JOHN MONK [email protected]­

An in­sur­ance agent was sen­tenced to five years in prison Fri­day for his role in a long-run­ning scam that net­ted mil­lions of dol­lars for mem­bers of Aiken County’s se­cre­tive Ir­ish Trav­el­ers com­mu­nity.

For years, Dou­glas Wade Wil­liamson was a key player in that life in­sur­ance scam, a pros­e­cu­tor told a U.S. dis­trict judge Fri­day.

“What he did was set up a sys­tem for $54 mil­lion to be paid out to the Ir­ish Trav­el­ers com­mu­nity,” As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Jim May said at Wil­liamson’s sen­tenc­ing hear­ing. “He was an ac­tive par­tic­i­pant who made his liv­ing on fraud.”

Dur­ing a two-hour hear­ing at Columbia’s fed­eral court­house, an FBI agent tes­ti­fied fraud was in­volved in about a quar­ter of those poli­cies, worth roughly $13 mil­lion. Wil­liamson, who is not an Ir­ish Trav­eler, en­abled the scheme, used by nu­mer­ous mem­bers of the se­cre­tive group, the agent tes­ti­fied.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Michelle Childs handed Wil­liamson, 55, of the North Au­gusta area the tough­est sen­tence pos­si­ble — 60 months in fed­eral prison —for con­spir­ing to com­mit wire and mail fraud.

While fed­eral of­fi­cials pre­vi­ously have re­ferred in court to life in­sur­ance schemes by the Trav­el­ers, Fri­day’s hear­ing of­fered the most de­tailed look yet at how the schemes gen­er­ated money for the group, which has been im­pli­cated in nu­mer­ous frauds in re­cent years.

A ma­jor source of wealth in the Ir­ish Trav­el­ers com­mu­nity comes from fraud­u­lently ob­tained life in­sur­ance poli­cies that are writ­ten on sick and el­derly Trav­el­ers with short life ex­pectan­cies, May told the judge.

Nor­mally, life in­sur­ance poli­cies with big pay­outs only can ap­plied for by the pol­icy holder or a rel­a­tive. The ap­pli­ca­tion also has to con­tain ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about the in­sured per­son, in­clud­ing their in­come and net worth. The big­ger the in­come and net worth, the big­ger the pos­si­ble pay­out.

Wil­liamson sold more than 400 life in­sur­ance poli­cies to the Trav­el­ers with a pay­out value of $54 mil­lion, re­tired FBI agent Ron Grosse tes­ti­fied. About a fourth of those poli­cies were fraud­u­lent, tes­ti­fied Grosse, who was the lead agent on the half-decade-long in­vesti- gation.

For ex­am­ple, few Trav­el­ers women work out­side the home, mak­ing their lives dif­fi­cult to in­sure for a large amount, Grosse tes­ti­fied. But Wil­liamson wrote 200 life in­sur­ance poli­cies for Trav­el­ers women, in­clud­ing 68 show­ing the women had sub­stan­tial in­come or a large net worth, Grosse tes­ti­fied.

Grosse tes­ti­fied the frauds in­cluded:

Eleven dif­fer­ent poli­cies, writ­ten by Wil­liamson, on a chain-smok­ing, un­em­ployed Ir­ish Trav­eler woman named Mar­garet Sher­lock, who lived in a cam­per. One of those poli­cies paid out $400,000 when she died.

A fe­male Trav­eler

named as the ben­e­fi­ciary on five poli­cies, writ­ten by Wil­liamson, claim­ing three dif­fer­ent men as her fa­ther.

Nu­mer­ous life in­sur­ance poli­cies, writ­ten by Wil­liamson for var­i­ous Trav­el­ers, on a dy­ing man named John Fitzger­ald Car­roll.

The av­er­age time that elapsed be­tween the ap­pli­ca­tion for a pol­icy and the death of the in­sured was about 4.8 years, Grosse tes­ti­fied. “Of­ten, the in­sured weren’t aware the pol­icy was be­ing taken out on them.”

Wil­liamson had to know what was go­ing be­cause he filled out the ap­pli­ca­tions with in­for­ma­tion dic­tated to him by Ir­ish Trav­el­ers, Grosse tes­ti­fied.

Wil­liamson didn’t col­lect any of the money from the life in­sur­ance poli­cies, mak­ing his money off com­mis­sions gen­er­ated by the poli­cies, Grosse said. But he was a “gate­keeper” for the scheme with “the abil­ity to quash an ap­pli­ca­tion” if he knew it con­tained false in­for­ma­tion, the FBI agent said.

Dur­ing a pro­tracted back-and-forth with Judge Childs, Wil­liamson said he had shown “bad judg­ment” but did not ac­knowl­edge he had done any­thing il­le­gal.

When Wil­liamson’s lawyer, James Ervin, said his client had not been in court be­fore, was not at ease or re­hearsed, and couldn’t be ex­pected to say he was guilty of a crime, the judge had no sym­pa­thy.

“You don’t have to be well-re­hearsed to tell the truth,” Childs said.

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