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Ex-Bel Aire insurance agent charged with stealing $2 million from policy holders

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at 3:22 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at 3:41 p.m.

A former insurance agent from Bel Aire was charged Tuesday by a federal grand jury indictment with stealing almost $2 million from policy holders, including a retired teacher known for her philanthropy.

Jason Matthew Pennington, 41, is charged in a 51-count indictment alleging the former State Farm Insurance agent defrauded his customers and lied to beneficiaries to cover up the thefts, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom’s office said in a release. The counts include wire fraud and attempted wire fraud, money laundering, attempted bank fraud and making false statements to a financial institution.

Pennington’s father, James L. Pennington, 65, Wichita, also is charged with four counts of filing false tax returns.

The FBI participated in the investigation. The indictment alleges the following:

One of Pennington’s victims was Marlene Brown, who retired in 1994 following a 37-year career with the Wichita school district where she served as teacher, coach and school administrator. She endowed the Marlene M. Brown Fund for the Department of Counseling, Leadership, Educational and School Psychology in the College of Education at Wichita State University.

Before she died in October 2009 Brown purchased a life insurance policy from State Farm through Jason Pennington worth more than $1.3 million. She designated the Marlene M. Brown Revocable Trust as the owner and beneficiary of the policy.

In November 2008 Pennington processed a request to obtain more than $99,484 in cash from the policy. He deposited the money into his State Farm account at Home Bank & Trust Company in Wichita, and used the money to pay his personal expenses. In March 2009 Pennington entered into a contract to build a $590,000 home at in Bel Aire. By the time the house was completed in 2010, it cost approximately $650,000.

In loan application papers, Pennington failed to disclose that he was required to make monthly child support and alimony payments and that he had a line of credit and a mortgage. He also claimed as an asset an Individual Retirement Account that in fact belonged to Brown.

In June 2009, Personal Property Memoranda were purportedly created and signed by Brown allocating the percentages her charitable beneficiaries would receive and another bequeathing the remaining money to Pennington and his family and associates. Included was a bequeath of more than $1 million to Pennington.

In the following months, Pennington took money from Brown’s policy and changed the address on Brown’s insurance policy from Brown’s address to his own business address in the 11000 block of West Central in Wichita.

After Brown died in October 2009, Pennington collected several bags of documents from her home. He later lied to trust beneficiaries and provided them with false documents to cover up the fact he had taken the bulk of her estate for himself.

He told beneficiaries that Brown’s 2002 Lincoln LS automobile had been given to a single mother, but instead he gave the car to his father, James Pennington. He told beneficiaries that two television sets belonging to Brown were given to a young family, but he planned to give the TVs to his father.

He told beneficiaries that a baseball autographed by members of the New York Yankees would be given to Brown’s physician, but he planned to keep the ball. He told beneficiaries that some of Brown’s estate was going to the Kansas Humane Society, but the organization didn’t receive any money.

He told beneficiaries that part of Brown’s estate was going to WSU, but the indictment says WSU didn’t receive the money.

Other victims included a couple from Garden Plain, who purchased a life insurance policy valued at more than $3.4 million through Pennington. Pennington fraudulently processed more than $1 million worth of loan requests even though the couple was not aware the loans were being applied for in their names.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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