September 20, 2020

Former Ameriprise adviser from Plymouth admits to swindling $1 million from clients


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Ameriprise-adviser-Susan-WalkerBy Randy Furst Star Tribune

The ex-Ameriprise employee spent her clients’ money on clothing, vacations, tuition.

The money siphoned from elderly clients paid for some eclectic purchases.

It was spent at Victoria’s Secret, on Caribbean cruises, salon visits and donations to a local Catholic Church, according to state Commerce Department documents and the U.S. attorney’s office.

This week Susan Elizabeth Walker, 50, of Plymouth pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to abusing her position as a registered securities agent and financial adviser to steal nearly $1 million from at least 24 victims. The charges included one count of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion.

She was employed by ., which has reimbursed the victims, according to documents.

Walker could face up to 25 years in prison, according to federal statutes. Advisory sentencing guidelines range from 6½ to 8 years. No sentencing date has been set.

U.S. Attorney Andy Luger praised his staff for its aggressive prosecution. Earlier this year, Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said the fraud was “unconscionable” and that clients had been cheated of their life savings.

Fred Bruno, Walker’s attorney, said he will seek a shorter sentence. “She accepted responsibility for the diversion of the funds,” said Bruno. “She is very apologetic about what happened.”

The Commerce Department investigation, made public last March, stated that Walker worked with her , Barbara Stark, “in a willful pattern of stealing the retirement accounts of their victims to fund a lavish lifestyle that included multiple vacations, payments for a Lexus, private school tuition and rent.”

Stark, 73, was not indicted. Asked why not, Ben Petok, a spokesman in the office, said only, “We bring charges when the evidence demonstrates that a particular crime has been committed by a particular defendant.”

Carolyn Agin Schmidt, Stark’s attorney, said her client received a letter from the U.S. attorney’s office that she was under investigation but Schmidt said she did not know its status.

Ameriprise dismissed the two women in 2013, said John Brine, the company’s vice president for public relations, and “we remediated clients for their losses.” He said the company was “not a subject of the criminal legal proceeding.”

The U.S. attorney’s office said Walker opened investment brokerage accounts in her own name and in the names of several clients without their knowledge, and used them to conceal money stolen from other clients. Under the scheme, money was withdrawn from clients’ retirement accounts, deposited in those brokerage accounts, then taken for Walker’s use.

Among the payouts were $401 to the Plymouth Soccer Association, $7,000 in tuition payments to Benilde-St. Margaret’s, $342 to the YMCA, $2,000 to Holy Name of Medina Catholic Church, $4,000 to “Marriott Vacation,” $855 to the Target store in Champlin, $930 for airfare and $1,000 to .

There were debit card expenses to Victoria Secret for $134, Ralph Lauren for $176 and a “Travelocity Vacation Package” for $4,762. There were thousands of dollars of ATM withdrawals in the Twin Cities, Las Vegas and Miami.

The expenses also covered some $700 to the CFP Board of Standards, for certified financial planner certification.

The Commerce Department brought charges against both Stark and Walker, but “there has not been a final determination yet,” said Anne O’Connor, assistant commissioner for consumer and external affairs.

The plea agreement that Walker signed on Wednesday stated that she and her mother were affiliated with Ameriprise Financial Inc. from 2008 through about March 2013.

Illegally derived funds of more than $400,000 were not reported to the Internal Revenue Service, the plea said, and the government will present evidence at her sentencing that the total amount of unreported income will be about $980,000, resulting in a tax loss to the IRS of about $325,000.

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