LE ROY – Lauren and Robert Humphrey met Brian Bartz through friends in 2012.

Bartz was an insurance broker and the Humphreys were looking for someone they could trust for a life insurance policy that would also earn them money for retirement.

Bartz seemed like the perfect fit, recommended by Lauren Humphrey’s childhood friend, Bartz’s brother-in-law.

“I don’t let anyone handle money unless we trust them,” Humphrey said. “Brian became a family friend. We had him here for dinner with his wife and our children played together.

“The entire time he was stealing our money.”

Bartz, 38, on June 26 was arrested by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office in Rochester and charged with wire fraud, attempted wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, charges that carry a maximum 20 years in federal prison.

Bartz, who grew up in Genesee County and has lived in Alexander, Bergen and Pike, is accused of defrauding investors out of more than $950,000.

Many of those investors live in Genesee County, where Bartz still has family and friends.

The Humphreys figure they lost about $18,000.

The couple took out a whole life policy that earns dividends when Bartz was working for NY Life in 2012.

Bartz, she said. left NY Life in 2014 and the Humphreys transferred their accounts to Nationwide. Humphrey said she now assumes Bartz got fired from NY Life and, again, from Nationwide.

While at Nationwide, Bartz encouraged Humphrey to apply for a marketing position at his office, even having her do a pre-employment background check. The job was never offered to her, however an employee life insurance policy for millions of dollars of coverage was unknowingly taken out in her name with forged signatures.

He forged signatures, repeatedly stalled on having their accounts transferred until eventually the Humphrey’s lost faith in what they thought was a good friend.

Bartz had left Nationwide and asked the Humphreys to again transfer the accounts.

“We told him OK, we will transfer one more time but you can’t manage the accounts for us anymore,” she said. “We didn’t think he was stealing. We just thought he was a mess.”

Bartz was working for Banker’s Conseco by then and after that moved to Mass Mutual.

Since early 2018, the Humphreys have repeatedly asked Bartz to cash out their accounts.

“I asked him, in writing, for our money,” she said. “I told him, ‘if you want to salvage our friendship and our kids playing together, then you need to do this.’”

Bartz sent the couple what ended up being bogus documents, having them choose an option to cash out for $7,000-$8,000.

That was in January.

Bartz told Humphrey that the money would be to them “the next quarter.” The next day, Bartz went “off the grid,”

Soon, she found out the FBI had become involved and had been investigating him for some time.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan K. McGuire, who is handling the case, said that Bartz, of Rochester, had worked for a number of agencies during the past five years: Benjamin Hollamby Agency, which sold life insurance policies on behalf of Nationwide Life Insurance Company; the Banker’s Conseco Life Insurance Company; Mass Mutual Life Insurance Company; and the Lavoro Group via Mass Mutual, located in Rochester. The general practice of these companies was to offer monetary commissions and/or bonuses to their agents when agents sold life insurance policies.

According to the complaint, Bartz would submit false applications for life insurance policies to the insurance companies on behalf of individuals who were not aware of these applications. The applications included individuals’ means of identification without their knowledge or consent. In order to avoid detection, Bartz used various victims’ bank accounts to pay the premiums for the unauthorized policies. Between 2015 and 2020, Bartz defrauded or attempted to defraud a number of life insurance companies and dozens of investors out of more than $950,000.

Some of the fraud was discovered after Bartz left each company.

In February 2018, Nationwide conducted an annual audit, which revealed that a disproportionately large number of life insurance policies sold by Bartz had lapsed due to policy holders failing to pay the required premiums. As a result, Nationwide performed an internal investigation and determined that many of the lapsed policy holders had never given the defendant authorization to apply for a policy on their behalf.

In October 2019, investigators executed a search warrant on the contents of the defendant’s personal email, which he used to effectuate his scheme. That review revealed that, on multiple occasions, Bartz received emails from Nationwide that were addressed to and intended for prospective policy holders but were sent directly to the defendant’s email address. The emails contained a link to a website application that prospective policy holders were supposed to complete, electronically sign, and submit to Nationwide. These emails were sent shortly before Nationwide received completed applications for these individuals. Investigators believe that the defendant completed the applications and submitted them without the victims’ knowledge or consent. In total, Bartz fraudulently submitted about 150 policy applications on behalf of approximately 120 individuals to Nationwide and, as a result, Nationwide paid out approximately $250,000 in commissions and bonuses that it otherwise would not have paid.

Bartz continued to engage in this scheme of submitting false life insurance policy applications, collecting commissions for the sale of those policies, and using victim bank accounts to pay the policy premiums after he left the Benjamin Hollamby Agency and Nationwide:

n At Banker’s Conseco, Bartz allegedly fraudulently submitted approximately 29 policy applications on behalf of about 22 individuals, attempting fraudulently to obtain approximately $70,000 in commissions and bonuses. Banker’s Conseco discovered the fraudulent scheme in time to avoid making the payments.

n At Mass Mutual, Bartz fraudulently submitted approximately 138 policy applications on behalf of 10 individuals, attempting fraudulently to obtain about $110,000 in commissions and bonuses. However, Mass Mutual discovered the fraudulent scheme in time to avoid making the payments.

In addition to defrauding insurance companies, Bartz attempted to defraud individual victims through a fraud scheme commonly known as a Ponzi scheme. The defendant targeted individuals that he either already had years-long relationships with as their life insurance agent or who were referred to Bartz as a trusted life insurance/investment agent. While working at the life insurance companies, the defendant began to persuade individuals to make premium payments to him directly instead of to the life insurance company with which they had or believed they had a policy. In addition, Bartz represented himself as an investment advisor and convinced victims to invest their money in investment funds that he controlled, which, in fact, did not exist. To avoid being detected, the defendant used a small portion of incoming new investor monies to make promised payments to earlier investors. Bartz is accused of defrauding individual investors out of about $530,000.

The Humphreys were among the latter.

Humphrey said that when she heard one widow was bilked out of $350,000, “I felt sick.”

“I can recoup our money. We’re young,” she said. “He had clients all over. We referred him to family and friends. It’s heartbreaking. You think you have a great financial advisor and a good friend who you let into your home and slowly he was stealing from my kids. He has a great family and he threw it all away for nothing.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1