NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An insurance agent from Staten Island is accused of scamming senior citizens out of more than $2 million.
As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, 69-year-old Paul Simoneschi was led into the courtroom for his arraignment in handcuffs.
Simoneschi is accused of scamming 13 victims — one of which as old as 94 — out of $2.5 million collectively. Authorities said his actions constitute as a hate crime.
“It’s a hate crime because this defendant targeted a group of individuals based on their age,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.
Simoneschi, a married father of four and a grandfather of six, operated Simmons Planning Group and Agency in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn after stints as a teacher and limo driver, Gainer reported.
The DA said Simoneschi was born in Italy and would speak Italian to Italian immigrant clients, developing long-term relationships.
One of the ways Thompson said Simoneschi would dupe clients was by recommending they surrender their life insurance policies and invest the money with him. But instead of investing the money, he would deposit the funds into his account, according to Thompson.
Some of that cash was allegedly used to buy a girlfriend an apartment.
It’s even alleged that Simoneschi stole from a childhood friend in the hospital.
“(Gainer: Is he sorry? Is he remorseful?) Most of the people involved in this indictment are people that Paul knows very well,” said attorney Matthew Mari. “He never intended to hurt anyone and if he had any money — anyone who had anything coming to them, you can be sure they’d get it back.”
But the district attorney is vowing to get the victims’ money back.
“You work all your life to earn a life savings, to live your retirement in peace. But to have that money defrauded, stolen from you — it’s going to be a struggle for many of these people, and we’re going to fight to get every dime back,” Thompson said.
The five-year investigation began after a victim contacted the district attorney’s office. Authorities said they’re still looking for more possible victims.
The 63-count indictment also includes charges of money laundering, scheme to defraud and criminal possession of a forged instrument.
Bail for Simoneschi was set at $1 million bond. He is due back in court on Nov. 18.