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When Elder Financial Abuse Leads to Murder

Sep 12, 2023 Elder Abuse and Exploitation

Elderly investors should not let a friendly relationship with a broker persuade them to ease the vigilance with which they safeguard their finances. Financial professionals are in a unique position to take advantage of their elderly clients’ wealth. For many, that temptation proves too great, and in one recent case, a case of elder financial exploitation came to a fatal conclusion.

Financial Advisor Allegedly Murdered a Client, Misappropriated Funds

In November 2020, Texas detectives charged Keith Ashley of Allen, Texas with the murder of his ex-client, James Seegan. In February of 2020, Seegan’s wife discovered him dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Notably, the pistol was in his left hand, and his wife attested that he was right-handed and did not own guns. Next to the body, a typed note indicated he had died by suicide. Police revealed that the typed note referred to Ashley as Seegan’s “last friend.”

Police later stated that their investigation revealed Keith Ashley had incapacitated Seegan prior to the alleged murder. Allegedly, he set up a meeting with Seegan using the pretense of needing to draw blood for an insurance policy. Instead of drawing blood, Ashley, who had experience as a nurse, allegedly injected Seegan with a drug that incapacitated him.   

Financial Planning reports that Keith Ashley’s wife believes Ashley forged her signature to make himself the beneficiary of a $2 million life insurance policy. Investigators believe that Ashley also used Seegan’s phone to wire himself $20,000.

Keith Ashley was found guilty on federal charges of wire and mail fraud, as well as a charge of carrying a firearm in relation to a violent crime. He was sentenced to life in prison before ever facing murder charges.

FINRA BrokerCheck Record: What Regulators Already Knew

Keith Ashley’s BrokerCheck record reveals Parkland Securities fired him following allegations of undisclosed outside business activities. The firm also alleged he had failed to provide notice of private securities transactions. Both these alleged actions violate FINRA rules. Firms require notice of outside businesses and private securities so that they can adequately supervise their representatives’ business dealings. FINRA barred Keith Ashley following allegations that he failed to respond to requests for information following their investigation into his termination from Parkland Securities.

FINRA also alleged that Keith Ashley had misappropriated funds from investors. Ashley allegedly told investors he would use their money to invest in a Unit Investment Trust. FINRA alleged that Ashley spent over $1 million of investor money on credit card payments, mortgage payments, visits to casinos, and payments for his struggling brewery. (His detailed BrokerCheck reports he is a co-owner of Nine Band Brewing Co.) He also allegedly used money to pay off previous investors, as part of a Ponzi scheme.

The misappropriation of client funds reportedly began in 2016 and allegedly went undetected by the brokerage firm. FINRA Rule 3110 requires brokerage firms to establish rules designed to ensure their brokers comply with securities laws. This case calls into question how seriously the firm took its supervisory duties, especially given that Keith Ashley also had a felony forgery charge on his record from 1991. One could argue that a forgery charge should disqualify someone from a career as a broker or adviser but at the very least warranted heightened supervision of interactions with clients. This case serves as a reminder that investors cannot necessarily trust their financial professionals, even if they work under the ostensible supervision of a reputable brokerage firm.

Elder Financial Exploitation in the Securities Industry

Elderly investors are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation by financial advisors. AARP estimates that seniors lose approximately $8 billion annually to elder financial exploitation. Cases of elder exploitation are also chronically underreported. Many elderly investors are used to giving financial professionals unfettered access to their financial statements and accounts. Bad actors can easily exploit this trusting relationship.

What Can I Do if I Suspect Elder Financial Exploitation?

If you are suspicious of any transactions in your accounts, contact FINRA’s helpline for seniors: 844-574-3577. Any type of financial exploitation, whether by financial advisors or family members, is worth reporting to Adult Protective Services.

Elder financial exploitation can undo decades of hard work and diligent saving. This type of crime often goes unchecked because the victim feels ashamed, or because the victim feels that they have a friendship with their financial professional. Securities lawyers can help in cases where the perpetrator is a registered broker or financial advisor. Elder abuse attorneys also take on elder financial exploitation cases. There is no excuse for elder financial exploitation, and legal accountability may deter future elder abuse.