By Jeff Lehr
A Springfield woman accused of defrauding Joplin residents through offers to handle their insurance claims after the May 2011 tornado has taken a plea deal with the state attorney general’s office.
Gloria D. Schoeller, 57, entered an Alford plea Monday in Jasper County Circuit Court to a single felony count of deceptive business practice and two misdemeanor counts of acting as a public adjuster without a license.
The state filed charges about a year after the tornado accusing Schoeller and her husband, Jeffrey Wolfson, 65, of Osage Beach, of taking about $38,000 of insurance money from three property owners without delivering near that amount in home repairs.
Schoeller is identified in court records as the operator of Insurexx, a claims adjusting and home repair business based in Lebanon, Mo. Wolfson served as a paid consultant to the business, according to the state attorney general’s office.
Each has been facing three felony counts of deceptive business practice and three felony counts of theft in addition to misdemeanor counts of acting as a public adjuster without a license. Wolfson, who is being prosecuted as a prior and persistent offender, has a trial date set for October.
Schoeller paid $24,144.88 in restitution to the attorney general’s office on Monday as part of her plea bargain. Her deal with the state would limit the prison time that she might be assessed to no more than four years and would dismiss the other counts she is facing. The attorney general’s office also has agreed not to oppose the possibility that she receives a suspended imposition of sentence.
An Alford plea admits no guilt but acknowledges the likelihood of a conviction if the matter were to proceed to trial. Circuit Judge Gayle Crane delayed formal action on the plea deal and set Schoeller’s sentencing hearing for June 10.
Three Joplin homeowners testified at Wolfson’s preliminary hearing in November that they contracted with Insurexx for home repairs after the tornado.
Larry Black told the court that he paid the business more than $23,000 to begin repairs, but the only work completed was the replacement of his roof. Angela Viebrock said she and her husband paid the company more than $9,000 upfront to get started on $30,000 worth of repairs, but no work was ever done. Ron Galindo testified that he gave Insurexx $6,000 in insurance money but could not get any work done on his roof until he secured another contractor himself to remove a tree.
GLORIA SCHOELLER’S HUSBAND, Jeffrey Wolfson, has previous convictions in a 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 12 years ago in St. Louis County Circuit Court on five counts of unlawful merchandising practices.