Broward News

Michael McNerney Gets Five Years in Prison for $1.25 Billion Mutual Benefits Ponzi Scheme

Michael J. McNerney -- a founding partner of the Fort Lauderdale Brinkley, McNerney, Morgan, Solomon & Tatum law firm as well as a founding partner of the Mutual Benefits Corp.'s Ponzi scheme -- was sentenced late last week to five years in prison.

As outside counsel for the Mutual Benefits Corp., the feds say that from October 1994 through May 2004, he helped raise more than $1.25 billion in a scheme selling investment interests in insurance policy settlements to more than 30,000 people worldwide.

McNerney pleaded guilty a few months ago to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in exchange for dropping the rest of the laundry list of charges he was indicted on. His alleged cohorts in the scheme, brothers Joel Steinger and Steven Steiner (who dropped the g in his last name) and Anthony Livoti, have not taken any such deal and are slated to head to trial in the coming years.

McNerney also was ordered to pay restitution of the full $826 million that was lost in the scheme, which would be pooled in the event of his pals' convictions.

The FBI explains that McNerney and friends were running the scheme by fraudulently promising returns to investors on both viatical and life settlement insurance policies, which it defines as simply as possible:

A viatical settlement is a transaction in which a terminally ill person sells the death benefit of his or her life insurance policy to a third party in return for a lump-sum cash payment, which is a discounted percentage of the policy's face value. A life settlement is similar to a viatical settlement, except the seller is not terminally ill, but is a senior citizen. In the sale of viatical or life settlements, an investor would realize a profit if, when the insured dies and the policy matures, the policy benefit is more than the price paid for policy. Any profit realized would be decreased by additional out-of-pocket costs, such as premium payments.

While people got their cash from insurance settlements -- most of whom were dying of either cancer or AIDS -- McNerney was lying to investors about historical returns on investments, the life expectancy of people whose policies they'd purchased, and the amount of money Mutual Benefits had to cover the payments on the policies.

In the indictment, the feds say Mutual Benefits would engage in several other scummy practices, including reselling failed policies to new investors, taking on other worthless policies, and running the classic definitional Ponzi scheme.

As many veteran New Times readers know, the downfall of Mutual Benefits was covered extensively by Bob Norman -- which you can find most of here -- with the gem being "Joel Steinger and Mutual Benefits Corp. Stole a Billion Dollars by Peddling Bogus Life Insurance Policies," which you can find here.

Follow The Pulp on Facebook and on Twitter: @ThePulpBPB. Follow Matthew Hendley on Facebook.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley