The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 8, 2012

Couple to stand trial in tornado fraud case

By Jeff Lehr

JOPLIN, Mo. — A Jasper County judge has ordered two defendants to stand trial on charges that they defrauded Joplin residents through offers to handle their insurance claims and get their homes repaired after the May 2011 tornado.

Jeffrey Wolfson, 65, of Osage Beach, and Gloria D. Schoeller, 57, of Springfield, are accused of taking about $38,000 of insurance money from three property owners without delivering anywhere near that amount in repairs.

Associate Judge Richard Copeland found probable cause at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing Thursday in Jasper County Circuit Court for Wolfson to be bound over for trial on three counts of theft and three counts of deceptive business practice. Schoeller waived a preliminary hearing Tuesday on similar charges.

Prosecutors with the state attorney general’s office said additional misdemeanor counts of acting as a public adjuster without a license will be filed against both defendants.

Probable-cause affidavits identify Schoeller as the operator of Insurexx, a claims adjusting and home repairs service based in Lebanon, Mo. Her husband, Wolfson, acted as a paid consultant for the business, according to the state attorney general’s office.

Three Joplin homeowners testified at Wolfson’s hearing that they contracted with Insurexx for home repairs after the tornado.

Larry Black said a salesman for Insurexx assured him that the payment on his claim that his insurance company was offering was much too low, and that Insurexx could negotiate a better settlement for him and find contractors to perform the repairs he needed.

Black said he paid Insurexx more than $23,000 to begin repairs, but the only work completed was replacement of his roof. He testified that he later learned Insurexx had paid the contractor $2,400. He said he was never refunded any of the difference, and that needed repairs to his fence and pool were never performed. He ended up having to secure his own contractors and pay additional money to get that work done, he said.

Angela Viebrock offered a similar account of paying Insurexx for work that was never performed. Viebrock said she and her husband paid the company more than $9,000 upfront to get started on about $30,000 worth of repairs to their property. She said no work was ever done.

Ron Galindo testified that he received just $9,000 from his insurance company on damage estimated at $15,000 to $20,000 to repair. He said he gave $6,000 of the insurance money to Insurexx.

“They said they knew who to get, they would do all that, and I wouldn’t have to worry about it,” he said.

A month or so later, he began to worry when no work had been done. Only after he secured another contractor himself to remove a tree did Insurexx get the roof repaired. He said the contractor who repaired the roof later told him that he received $3,000 from Insurexx, which was $1,000 less than the contractor thought he should have been paid.

John Winston Grantham and Carol Ann Schuetze, the assistant attorneys general prosecuting the case, called Tim Green, an Insurexx salesman, as a witness at the hearing. All three homeowners testified that they had contact with Green and Schoeller during their dealings with Insurexx, but not with Wolfson.

Green told the court that Wolfson hired him to be a salesman for Insurexx shortly before the tornado and trained him in what his pitch was to be. He said the pitch included a promise to cover the deductibles on customers’ policies.

Complaints from customers led to an investigation by the state attorney general’s office and the serving of a civil investigative demand for records of the company.

Brandon Ruediger, the state investigator, testified that former employees of Insurexx later informed the state that they were told by Schoeller to delete all emails received from Wolfson’s email account. Schoeller is charged in Laclede County with interference with a civil investigative demand for that alleged order issued to employees.

Certain purported emails of Wolfson’s to insurance companies that were obtained by the state were offered as evidence at the hearing.

Prior offender

JEFFREY WOLFSON is being prosecuted as a prior and persistent offender. Court records show he has convictions in federal court for making a false and fraudulent statement to the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and for three counts of bribing a public official. He also was convicted on five counts of unlawful merchandising practices 12 years ago in St. Louis County Circuit Court.