A federal jury in Tampa has convicted a Sarasota insurance agent and former attorney who called himself the Annuity King of bilking senior citizens out of millions and using the money to buy a luxury home, Tampa Bay Lightning season tickets, jet skis and assorted other items for himself and his family.
Phillip Roy Wasserman. 66, was found guilty on nine counts, ranging from wire fraud to issuing false statements to lying to investors about the state of his company and previous financial problems. He was also found guilty of an attempt to evade taxes.
Given Wasserman’s age, he faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. According to the Department of Justice, the mail and wire fraud convictions and a conspiracy conviction each carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Along with prison time, the government seeks at least $6.3 million in restitution, the amount of the proceeds from the fraud.
A note to the judge posted on the federal court’s website says the jury reached a unanimous verdict on the nine counts.
Wasserman’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment on the verdict or if an appeal was planned.
According to a superseding indictment filed in June 2020, a statement from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida released after Monday’s verdict and other court papers, this is what happened:
Wasserman was selling insurance and annuity products through his firm Phillip Roy Financial Consultants when, sometime around 2016, he created an insurance venture called FastLife. According to a website for FastLife that remains up, the company sought to generate retirement income for those who bought annuities.
Prosecutors, however, called FastLife a “fraudulent insurance venture.”
As part of the scheme, Wasserman brought in Kenneth Rossman, a CPA and also a licensed insurance agent. Together, the men conspired to get their mostly elderly clients to put money into this new venture. The pair convinced some of these investors to liquidate other investments and to borrow against life insurance policies to generate cash to invest into FastLife. This without telling them they’d be charged surrender fees and other charges for liquidating investments or about the tax implications of cashing out early.
The indictment says the investors were promised an annual return of 10% to 12%, which was much higher than they received from other investments, and that they would get monthly interest payments which they could also reinvest and receive the money at maturity. In order to keep the scheme alive, the men lied to investors when pushed about not being paid and created false investor statements showing false balances and earnings.
The investments, victims were told, would be used to pay for expenses and grow the business.
But in fact, Wasserman paid Rossman a percentage of the money invested as compensation for his role in the conspiracy. And he used the money to make payments to earlier victims and creditors.
Rossman pled guilty in 2021 and will be sentenced June 8 for his role.
While prosecutors don’t out-and-out call what happened a Ponzi Scheme, in the superseding indictment they call the money going to early investors “Ponzi-style payments.” (A Ponzi scheme is when people pay into a fraudulent investment and their money is used to pay previous investors.)
The money also went to fund Wasserman’s lifestyle, including a beach house on Casey Key, Lightning season and playoff tickets, concerts, high-end vehicles, jewelry, personal celebrity entertainment, gambling, home improvements and personal insurance.
Among other accusations are that Wasserman entered into TV and radio contracts and sponsorships to promote FastLife that were never paid, evaded payment of more than $900,000 in taxes and did not tell investors about a “multitude” of civil judgments and other debts.
During the trial it was also revealed he had created a second set of books and fabricated a compensation agreement to try to convince investigators he hadn’t used the money for personal use. He also urged a witness to lie to investigators, encouraged victims to not cooperate with the investigation and lied about an audit.