October 27, 2020

US Jury takes one hour to convict O’Garro of all charges in insurance fraud case

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hc-earl-ogarro-pleads-new-charges-20150811-001By Edmund H. Mahony From Hartford Courant

Hartford insurance broker Earl O’Garro Jr. found guilty of all charges in fraud case

HARTFORD — A federal jury needed only an hour Monday to convict former Hartford insurance broker Earl O’Garro Jr. of charges that he cheated lenders and clients of more than $1 million in order to pay for his condominium and other trappings of a high-end lifestyle.

It was one of the fastest verdicts in memory at U.S. District Court in Hartford.

The jury found O’Garro guilty of two counts of wire fraud and one of mail fraud for lying on loan applications, forging email and misappropriating money by wire transfer. The verdict came in at about 4 p.m. The jury did not begin deliberating until after a morning and early afternoon of closing arguments and instructions from the judge.

Each of the convictions carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years, although O’Garro is likely to face something less. The federal probation department will recommend a sentence under the guideline system used in federal court and O’Garro’s lack of a criminal record will mitigate in his favor.

U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson ordered O’Garro back to court for sentencing on March 7. Thompson continued O’Garro’s $500,000 bail, but ordered him to wear an electronic monitoring device that will track his movements.

The quick verdict followed an unexpectedly short trial. Testimony was predicted to last as long as two weeks. But the government rested Thursday after 2 1/2 days. O’Garro’s public defenders did not present a defense and he decided against testifying.

He was in court seated with his lawyers, wearing a tailored, blue suit and a sharply pressed shirt. when the verdict came in Monday. He took notes and conferred often with his lawyers during his brief trial. He could not be reached Monday evening.

Only five years ago, O’Garro, now 32, was a hot insurance prospect in a city built on insurance. He left the successful S.H. Smith and Co. agency to found his own agency, the , a brokerage that specialized in high-priced, high-risk coverage.

Hartford Treasurer Adam Cloud Describes Relationship With Insurance Broker Earl O’Garro Jr.
Hartford Treasurer Adam Cloud Describes Relationship With Insurance Broker Earl O’Garro Jr.
A prosecution witness, West Hartford insurer , owner of Tennant Risk Services, said he was impressed enough with O’Garro’s character and knowledge of the industry to participate in a $250,000 investment in the startup..

O’Garro opened Hybrid in a modest, suburban office and Hybrid seemed to take off. He paid himself a six-figure salary, threw himself and hundreds of guests a spectacular wedding at the Ritz Carlton in Jamaica, had his suits tailored in his office, drove a $100,000 sedan, moved into an $8,000-a-month office suite in Hartford and could be seen at the city’s best watering holes.

Records compiled by state insurance regulators show that Hybrid had become dangerously overextended by 2013. By the middle of the year, the records show Hybrid was not paying the premiums it collected on client policies. When O’Garro misappropriated about $900,000 in premiums on two city of Hartford policies, the lapse sparked an investigation and triggered a scandal at city hall.

City Treasurer Adam Cloud testified as a government witness that he broke with accepted payment practice by arranging to have the premiums wired directly to O’Garro’s account.

Federal prosecutors Avi Perry and Michael Gustafson focused their case against O’Garro on the period from April to September in 2013. Perry argued to the jury in both the government’s opening and closing statements that the event that finally crushed O’Garro and Hybrid was his decision in April to buy a $1 million, waterfront condominium in Sosua in the .

The prosecutors told jurors in their closing that, at the end, O’Garro was running Hybrid as if it were a personal fundraising operation, using business loans and client premium payments to finance a lifestyle that included the Caribbean condominium.

Perry said “every lie the defendant told and ever dollar he stole” was designed by O’Garro to raise money to meet a series of $100,000 payments that began coming due within weeks of closing on the condo.

Perry said O’Garro created dummy business partnerships and a forged email exchange to trick a commercial lender into giving him more than $800,000, bluffed Cloud and Hartford into wiring him the $900,000 and lied on an application in order to get a $500,000 business assistance loan from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Much of the money went toward the condo; some went to personal expenses — such as $19,000 in private school tuition for his toddlers — and much of the remainder was used in frantic efforts to stop cancellation of insurance coverage for clients whose premiums O’Garro had collected but never paid to insurance providers, according to the prosecution’s evidence.

Public defender Tracy Hayes argued in his closing statement to jurors that O’Garro was and is a “nice guy” who was “over his head” when he founded Hybrid, was poorly served by incompetent employees and who was driven to misappropriate money in a desperate, but good faith effort to save his company.

The 4,000-square-foot, beachfront condo was a Hybrid branch office in the Dominican Republic, Hayes argued. He told the jury that the FBI should have provided them with pictures of the condominium’s interior, which might have shown computers and other business paraphernalia.

Hayes, who defended O’Garro with fellow federal defender Deirdre A. Murray, pinned much of his plea to the jury on O’Garro’s intent, which is an element of the wire and mail fraud charges on which O’Garro was convicted. Hayes said O’Garro did not act in “bad faith,” but in a “good faith” effort to save his business.

Gustafson, in the government’s rebuttal, dismissed the argument about intent. He told jurors that a bank robber is not absolved of robbery when he tells police he intended to donate the money to cancer research.

As the young owner of a start-up business specializing in the complex area of high-priced and high-risk insurance coverage, Hayes said, O’Garro was out of his depth. But he said Hybrid was hamstrung by incompetent employees who were lax about demanding premium payments from clients.

“It’s not as easy as saying the money was taken and used for something else,” Hayes said. “It just wasn’t coming in.”

For more on this story go to: http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-ogarro-trial-closings-1215-20151214-story.html

IMAGE: Hartford insurance broker Earl O’Garro, left, pictured next to the former Hybrid Insurance Group headquarters at 30 Lewis St. in Hartford. (Courant File Photo)

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