Nevada couple accused in scam targeting hundreds of San Diego seniors
Melissa and Michael Woodward plead not guilty
Last Updated: 228 days ago
SAN DIEGO - A man accused of posing as an insurance agent pleaded not guilty Friday, along with his wife, to charges they bilked hundreds of San Diego County seniors out of nearly $2 million in a scam in which the couple allegedly sold phony "in-home service agreements" for tasks such as cooking, cleaning and bathing.
Click here to view an infographic detailing the alleged scam
Michael Woodward, 50, and his 47-year-old wife, Melissa, were ordered held on $1 million bail each.
The defendants -- arrested April 10 at their Las Vegas home and extradited to San Diego -- each face up to 16 years in state prison if convicted of 11 felony counts of burglary, grand theft, theft from an elder, tax evasion and selling insurance without authorization.
"The defendants in this case were ruthless and heartless in the way they targeted the elderly and sold them fake insurance policies," District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said. "We're also encouraging anyone who bought an in-home service agreement from these defendants to come forward."
At the couple's arraignment, Domenic Lombardo, the attorney for Michael Woodward, unsuccessfully argued for a reduction in bail. Lombardo told Judge David Danielsen there was some question whether his client was selling service agreements or policies that would require a license to sell insurance.
Lombardo said three other states -- including Oregon and Minnesota -- investigated Michael Woodward for similar activity but declined to file criminal charges.
Earll Pott, the attorney for Melissa Woodward, said his client had no prior record and needed to get out of custody so she could care for her 14-year-old autistic son.
"She is desperate to return to him," Pott told the judge,
Pott said the charges against his client were "defensible," noting there was no indication that Melissa Woodward entered any homes to sell service agreements.
For nearly a decade, the Woodwards swindled 238 San Diego seniors out of more than $1.9 million in premiums, Deputy District Attorney Michael Zachry said. In all, Michael Woodward bilked victims out of nearly $6 million across the nation, the prosecutor said.
Using various business names, the defendants would target the elderly at their homes, telling them that for a prepaid annual fee, they would have access to an unlimited amount of non-medical services such as cooking, cleaning, bathing, dressing, laundry and shopping, Zachry said.
To receive services, Michael Woodward allegedly told the victims they should call him and provide a doctor's note.
In reality, the offer was a sham, according to the prosecutor, who alleged that Woodward and his wife were the only employees of the company and were not able to provide the in-home services he promised. The most he did included paying a third party to provide the requested services, or reimbursing seniors for the expense of acquiring services on their own, Zachry said.
Inexpensive claims were often paid, but when victims made claims that were more expensive, Michael Woodward would not return phone calls and would reject the claim, according to the prosecutor.
Michael Woodward also is accused of routinely returning to victims' homes to collect additional premiums, well beyond the original cost he quoted for the plan, Zachry said.
"The extent to which the Woodwards went to rip-off vulnerable seniors and attempt to hide their crime is shocking," said California Department of Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "The good work done by Department of Insurance investigators and the District Attorney's Office made the difference in uncovering this scam and putting a stop to their criminal enterprise. I'm pleased our investigative partnership with the District Attorney is making a difference."
Authorities also said the couple is accused of carrying out a similar operation in at least four other states, allegedly stealing $6 million from multiple victims in the process.
The DA's Insurance Fraud Division and Elder Abuse Prosecution Unit are involved in the case.
The defendants were scheduled to be back in court May 1 for a bail review. A readiness conference was scheduled for June 12 and a preliminary hearing for June 26.
Anyone with information on this case is urged to contact the state Department of Insurance at 800-927-4357.
Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. City News Service contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.