Iowa Woman To Serve 3 Years In Federal Prison For Fraud

By Trish Mehaffey, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 20--A woman who defrauded two insurance companies out of more than $175,000 in sales commissions was sentenced to more than three years Thursday in federal court.

Melissa Ilene Williams, 46, of Dike, pleaded guilty in March to one count of mail fraud.

In a plea agreement, Williams who was an insurance policy salesperson, admitted she fraudulently obtained advanced sales commissions from Funeral Director's Life Insurance and National Guardian Life Insurance between July 2011 and January 2012.

Williams obtained the commissions by submitting fake life insurance applications to the companies in the names of real individuals -- her family and friends -- who had no knowledge of the applications. She admitted to secretly paying the initial premiums on the policies so the companies wouldn't discover her deception.

U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade said prosecutors could have pursued identity theft charges which carry a mandatory two years each and would be a stiffer penalty because her crime involved 46 victims, "so this is a pretty good plea deal."

Reade gave her the maximum sentence because she used real identities and her actions were premeditated.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Deegan said Williams had an "alarming" amount of consumer debt, which was a contributing factor to her offense. He said she was obviously living beyond her means.

Deegan said he didn't charge her with the identity theft because the victims named on the applications didn't suffer actual harm. He pointed out that she did accept responsibility for the crime and had started paying restitution. She has paid more than $2,000 of the $175,147 that she owes the insurance companies.

Diane Helfrey, Williams' attorney, argued for probation based on William's acceptance of responsibility and her actions to start changing her life. She took a second job to pay the restitution and was remorseful for her actions.

Helfrey said Williams did have some mental health issues and suffers from obsessive, compulsive behavior.

Williams, who started to cry, said she was "truly sorry" for defrauding the companies. She violated their trust and her families,' and broke the law. She wants to make amends and realized it would take more than words and she will pay the restitution.

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