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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

NY Life Agents Accused of Heartless Predation

FT. LAUDERDALE (CN) - The court-appointed guardian of an institutionalized 85-year-old woman with Alzheimer's dementia claims New York Life Insurance salesmen took advantage of the chronically ill woman and used elaborate schemes, including an arranged marriage, to sell her 20 life insurance policies for $600,000. And, the trustee adds, New York Life refuses to investigate the suspicious transactions, for which "the primary motivation" was "commissions and premiums."

Rebecca McFarland, as trustee of the Mary Mullen Revocable Trust, sued New York Life Insurance and Annuity Corp. and its salesmen, John Palmateer, John Palmateer II and Jeffrey Knight, in Broward County Court.

"Systematic and continuous steps were taken by defendants to foster a relationship of trust and confidence with Mullen so that multiple annuity sales and replacements could be consummated and substantial commissions could be earned," McFarland says. "Hundreds of thousands of dollars in premiums were obtained by New York Life from Mullen, who was vulnerable at her advanced age and at all times relevant lacked the capacity to consent to these complicated insurance transactions."

The complaint adds: "Defendants completed the applications and paperwork, filing in the necessary information and then presented the forms to Mullen and simply directed her to sign. In truth, defendants knew or should have known that Mullen could not comprehend the complex products being sold to her, or the forms which were being signed in connection with the transactions and transfers of funds."

McFarland says that the annuities themselves are evidence of the wrongdoing: "Based on her circumstances and condition, these annuities did not meet Mullen's needs, had features that were detrimental to her, caused her financial harm, and were not in her best interests. Mullen was wrongfully influenced and/or her funds were transferred for the purchases of financial products detrimental to her, when all along the primary motivation of defendants for consummating the transactions was commissions and premiums."

In 1994, McFarland, says Palmateer approached Mullen, an 85-year-old widow with dementia and Alzheimer's, representing himself as an expert in insurance and financial matters. She claims he gained her trust by visiting her occasionally, sometimes at the hospital, while concealing her deteriorating health from her family, all of whom lived out-of-state.

The guardian claims that Palmateer collaborated with Mullen's neighbor, nonparty Guido "Jack" Chirillo, to defraud Mullen of her assets.

"At Palmateer's suggestion and direction, Chirillo married Mullen, who was then 87 years old, ostensibly to assist with the care of Mullen," but her family was never notified, and the two never lived together, according to the complaint.

"Palmateer and Knight participated in a series of steps to secure control of Mullen and her money," the complaint states. "To that end, Palmateer became her health care surrogate; Knight (rather than any of Mullen's blood relatives) was designated as the alternate health care surrogate; and Palmateer obtained a power of attorney over Mullen. In addition, Palmateer and Knight unduly influenced and advised Mullen to make changes to remove her nephew as successor trustee, to add New York Life Bank & Trust and Jack Chirillo as successor trustees, and to provide that Jack Chirillo would inherit Mullen's condominium upon her death. To accomplish these changes, Palmateer suggested to Mullen that her nephew was trying to take over her money and put her in a home - none of which was true."

McFarland says the fraudulent activity went undetected for years, and that after she brought these actions to New York Life's attention and requested a full investigation, "a proper investigation did not occur and New York Life failed to take corrective actions."

McFarland seeks damages for exploitation of a vulnerable adult and elderly person, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and undue influence.

She is represented by John Hargrove of Boca Raton.

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