Monday, January 21, 2013

Aaron Travis Beaird Used LDS Leadership Position To Bilk Investment Clients, Sentenced To Seven Years In Prison For Wire Fraud

Aaron Travis Beaird, an Enumclaw financial adviser whose crimes were uncovered when he tried to collect a half million dollar death benefit on a client who was still living, was sentenced on January 19th, 2013 to seven years in prison, three years of supervised release, and restitution in the amount of $5,705,023.24. The 39-year-old Beaird, identified as a leader in the local hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was arrested in July 2012 after he faked his suicide, traveled to Scotland for a week, and then returned to Sea-Tac airport where he was taken into federal custody for investigation of mail fraud and wire fraud; he pleaded guilty in August 2012.

Beaird launched his fraud nearly a decade ago, shortly after moving to Enumclaw, Washington (about 20 miles east of Tacoma) and going to work for Team Financial Services. Working under a more experienced salesman, Beaird dealt in high-premium life insurance policies and annuities. Both were meant as investments for his clients, a group of friends and family of modest means who trusted Beaird with their retirement funds. His status as an LDS leader made members of his church more inclined to trust him.

But Beaird betrayed their trust. He lied to his clients about the annuities and life insurance policies he sold them while skimming money from his clients’ payments. To conceal the thefts, he provided his clients with doctored account statements and redirected correspondence from the life insurance companies to a post office box he owned. But Beaird overreached himself in the case of a client identified only as D.B. The short version is that in order to cover for defrauding D.B. in other ways, Beaird secretly pulled $500,000 from D.B.'s investment account in May 2011 and bought a life insurance policy for him. In May 2012, Beaird forged a claim asserting that D.B. had died of acute cardiopulmonary arrest. The long version was published on July 8th, 2012 in the Enumclaw Courier-Herald.

Beaird's employer found out about the scam when D.B. proved he was still very much alive. Kent Binning, managing partner of Team Financial Partners, confronted Beaird with the fraudulent death claim and Beaird admitted to falsifying the claim. Unable to bear the impending consequences, Beaird decided to fake his suicide. First, he sent suicide notes to his victims confessing the scam. Then Beaird disappeared on June 21st and on June 23rd, his vehicle was found at the ironically-named Deception Pass Bridge; a note found in the vehicle stated Beaird had jumped off the bridge. But in reality, Beaird took a cab from Deception Pass to Sea-Tac Airport, where he boarded a flight to Scotland. He returned to Seattle a week later, was arrested on arrival and immediately confessed. He pleaded guilty to fraud charges in August.

At Beaird's sentencing, his public defender Nancy Tenney asked for only a 2 1/2 year sentence, noting his cooperation with the FBI, his guilty plea to spare the taxpayers the cost of a jury trial, as well as the fact that, through his actions, Beaird had already lost his professional license, his business, his wife, all material assets, and his reputation. But U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan told the court “These crimes were a betrayal of trust. Mr. Beaird’s friends, relatives and members of his church thought he was safeguarding their families’ future. Instead, he used their money to live well, turning their dreams into nightmares.” U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez agreed with Durkan and socked Beaird with seven years plus the other penalties. It will probably take the rest of his life to pay back over $5.7 million. Several of his clients who are seniors were left destitute.

It is because several local LDS leaders in the past have used their positions to rope church members into financial scams that the LDS Church issued a warning against affinity fraud a while back, stating that Church members are taught to be honest in their dealings with others, and those who are guilty of carrying out these scams can be given the most serious discipline the Church can impose, including excommunication. And just to drive the lesson home a bit more, on January 13th, at a CES Devotional at BYU-Provo, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said that Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear; they are encouraged to think and discover truth for themselves—expecting that they ponder, search, evaluate, and come to a personal knowledge of truth.

This means that if your bishop or stake president offers you a "financial deal", you're under no obligation to accept it simply because of his position. You are entitled to guidance from the Holy Spirit as to whether or not it's the right thing to do. Church leaders are in authority, but they are not inerrant. Sustaining our leaders does not require that we worship them.

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