A 50-year-old Bel Air insurance broker was in jail yesterday on charges of embezzling more than $2 million from at least 10 people who invested money with him over seven years, beginning in 1988.
Wade N. Willey of Bel Air was indicted by a Harford County grand jury last week on 49 counts of theft and misappropriation, two counts of filing false Maryland income tax returns and one count of failing to file a Maryland tax return.
The indictment was announced by the Harford County state's attorney's office yesterday. It included a grand jury statement criticizing the Maryland Insurance Administration, saying "no attempt was made to audit for a misappropriation of funds" even though the agency received a complaint from a former Willey employee in February 1996.
Willey, who was arrested at his office on Saturday, owns Wade Willey Wade Insurance Agency, Access Financial Network and Agency Systems Inc., all of Bel Air. He is being held at Harford County Detention Center in lieu of $200,000 bail and is expected to appear for a bond hearing at 9 a.m. today.
Employees at Willey's insurance agency and his wife, Joan Willey, declined to comment on the charges yesterday.
The charges stem from an investigation by the Harford state's attorney's office and Maryland State Police.
State police investigators said their case began a year ago when a man who had invested with Willey called them to complain.
"We were contacted by the initial complainant, who was Mr. Willey's uncle," said Sgt. Joe Price, a lead investigator with the state police, who added that police initially had no knowledge of the complaint filed by the former employee.
Willey operated a number of businesses from his Bel Air office.
Investigators said that from April 1988 to February 1995, at least 10 people invested money with Willey through his insurance premium finance business, known as Agency Systems.
"He used their money for purposes other than for what the money was intended for," Price said. "We believe there is a possibility that there are other victims out there."
Police said that while investors thought their money was gaining interest in various financial dealings, Willey was using part of that money in his other businesses, which investigators said involved insuring high-risk drivers.
"[Willey] was getting people to invest in things with a promise of high interest rates of return," said Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly, who said investigators spent a year going over bank records, business transactions and documents.
An allegation that Willey misappropriated funds was first made to state insurance officials by a former employee, whom police declined to identify. The former employee accused Willey of "investing the money that investors put into the company into an unrelated deal."
The Maryland Insurance Ad- ministration conducted a two-month investigation into the complaint, said Deputy Commissioner Dennis W. Carroll, but found no evidence of a crime.
The grand jury criticized the insurance administration, stating "at the very least a referral should have been made to another state agency that would have investigated the misappropriation. Because of the delay in conducting an investigation, the result was that even more investors' money was stolen."
In defense of the agency, Carroll said, "I believe that is a bit harsh, and I do think it's a bit unfortunate that they would criticize us in this fashion. I regard it as unjustified.
"At the time, we found only that there [were] licensing violations unrelated to the case," Carroll added. "Our focus is to protect insurance subscribers. These allegations don't appear to be related to the sale of insurance. Also, we do not have a broad authority to conduct criminal investigations like the grand jury does."
Pub Date: 1/12/99