Jun 4, 2004
By DAVID SOMMER
CLEARWATER - An 81-year- old woman who says she was tricked into wasting part of her life savings is suing a South Dakota insurance company and the local agent who sold her an annuity.
Fern Wakulich saw her income from an approximately $138,000 nest egg fall from $1,142 a month to $794 a month after a New Port Richey-based insurance agent convinced her to invest in an annuity offered by Midland National Life Insurance Co., according to the lawsuit filed this week in Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Court.
Wakulich would not currently be receiving any monthly income if she had not taken further losses to get immediate payments on the annuity, said her Fort Lauderdale-based attorneys, John Hargrove and Cristina Pierson. Monthly annuity payments were not scheduled to begin until 2015, when Wakulich would be 92 years old, the lawyers said.
The money was invested in another annuity that paid Wakulich $1,142 a month before the Clearwater woman contacted insurance agent Bijan Razdar of American Independent Financial Services Inc., Pierson said.
Wakulich heard Razdar's sales pitch on a weekly ``sponsored radio program'' on WGUL, the lawsuit says.
Razdar, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, persuaded Wakulich to pay about $9,000 to get out of her old investment before its term expired, Pierson said.
Then, in February 2001, Razdar sold her a Midland National annuity, collecting a commission of about 13 percent to 15 percent, the lawsuit says.
The new annuity, into which she deposited $129,271, required a wait of 14 years before monthly payouts would begin, according to the lawsuit.
``From the very start, Wakulich explained to Razdar that she had a fixed income and needed immediate access to her retirement savings in order to meet her living expenses,'' the lawsuit says. ``Midland, Razdar and American Independent failed to inform Wakulich of the disadvantages of the equity index annuity product, or that she would pay new and significant commission charges.''
Once Wakulich realized what she had done, she complained to Midland, Razdar and the state Department of Insurance, but received no satisfaction, Pierson said.
Calls to Midland's executive office in Sioux Falls, S.D., and to American Independent were not returned Thursday afternoon.
In 1996, a Pinellas County woman who ran a $7.7 million pyramid scheme targeting retired couples who listened to her weekly paid radio program was sentenced to 24 years in prison on charges including wire and mail fraud. Jan Weeks-Katona and her son Jason Weeks were also convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to murder a federal judge.
Looks like the agent got a commission of about $17,000. *I'll bet this was not the first time that he tried this.