Man Convicted in Investment Scheme

A Ventura County jury has convicted a Simi Valley man of burglary and grand theft for bilking an elderly woman out of nearly $250,000 in a bogus retirement plan.

The jury found James Michael Cleary, 48, guilty Monday on four counts each of residential burglary and grand theft in connection with his company, Retired Homeowners Assn..

Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Aveis said that between 1991 and 1993, Cleary entered the home of retired schoolteacher Esther Payne, now 82, to sell her on investing in one of his company’s annuity plans.

The annuity would have supposedly paid Payne 8% interest on her investment, which was far higher than the 3.5% she was then earning from the retired teachers’ credit union where she had the money invested, Aveis said.


To support his scheme, Cleary worked up a fake “statement of annuity value” on his computer, Aveis said.

“He wanted it to look ‘professional,’ ” Aveis said in an interview. “In my estimation, it was professional fraud, and the entries on the document were consistent with an annuity and not a debtor-creditor relationship, and the victim relied on this to part with her money.”

Payne withdrew $248,000 from her retirement fund, investing $220,000 of it on the bogus annuity and lending another $28,000 to Retired Homeowners Assn., Aveis said. She also paid Cleary $3,020.22 for a high-tech telephone system.

But rather than invest the money, Cleary spent the bulk of it repaying other creditors or supporting himself and his wife, Aveis said.


Payne has declined to discuss the case publicly, Aveis said. And neither Cleary nor his attorney could be reached Wednesday for comment.

Cleary, now free on $50,000 bail, faces up to 12 years in prison and possible orders to pay an as-yet undetermined amount in restitution. His sentencing is scheduled for March 14.