AG: Forest Hills Financial founder stole $260,000 and gambled in 3 states

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ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) – The founder of a West Michigan financial services firm faces charges of embezzling client funds and using the money to gamble in three states, among other expenses .

Michigan’s attorney general has filed seven counts against Jaime Westenbarger, 45, of allegedly stealing $260,000 from clients of the company he started, Ada-based Forest Hills Financial, Inc..

According to a probable cause affidavit filed in Kent County’s 63rd District Court, Westenbarger used the money to “pay credit cards, gamble at various casinos in Michigan, Las Vegas and New Orleans, as well as than to buy items for him and his girlfriend. ”

The court filing also alleges that Westenbarger gave some of the money to his then-girlfriend through the payment app Venmo.

Westenbarger is charged with embezzlement, using a computer to commit a crime and conducting a criminal enterprise.

The criminal enterprise charge requires a “pattern of racketeering activity,” according to the felony complaint filed against Westenbarger.

“This investigation revealed that the defendant, Jaime Westenbarger, used his business entity, Forest Hills Financial Inc, … (at) Grand Rapids, Kent Co. MI, to assist in the commission of the listed acts and used the business to defraud its clients by embezzling funds. their money that was supposed to go towards investments,” reads the probable cause affidavit.

The alleged crimes took place in the spring of 2018 and involved two separate clients.

In May of that year, the attorney general said a husband and wife gave Westenbarger two checks to invest, each for $100,000.

ALLEGED VICTIM SUFFERED FROM DEMENTIA

In April 2018, Westenbarger reportedly got a $60,000 investment check from a client with dementia.

In both cases, according to court documents, Westenbarger later “acknowledged to the victim(s) that he had converted the money and attempted to persuade them to sign a document stating that the money was a loan.”

It was Westenbarger’s story when Target 8 tracked him down in 2019 as he peddled his retirement planning skills at an invitation-only gathering at a Kent County country club.

He offered retirement plans because he could no longer sell securities.

The brokerage firm through which Westenbarger had been registered, Secure America, fired him amid allegations of embezzlement.

Westenbarger eventually agreed to permanently relinquish his brokerage license as part of a settlement agreement with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

A tipster, worried that Westenbarger had started targeting retirees, contacted Target 8, and we confronted the former broker at his country club’s retirement seminar.

Westenbarger told Target 8 that he plans to let potential clients know he’s lost his broker’s license, but only if they’ve scheduled personal consultations after the seminar.

Later, in a interview at WOOD TV8 studiosWestenbarger said he took out loans from clients but never stole them.

“It’s not a massive cover-up,” he told Target 8 at the time. “Nothing major. It’s not missing millions of dollars or anything like that. It doesn’t involve any embezzlement.

Westenbarger said he intended to use the client loans to invest in real estate, but his wife killed herself a month later and he ended up using the funds to cover his expenses.

A MOVE TO TENNESSEE, A BANKRUPTCY FILING

“Last year was a bad year,” Westenbarger said in 2018, acknowledging that he had no documents showing that clients had lent him money.

In 2020, Westenbarger and his then-girlfriend moved to Tennessee, and he took a job as a sales manager at a roofing company.

“Jaime Westenbarger is the TN Roofing Pro,” read his bio on the company’s website. “He brings a unique skill set and experience to any project he takes on. As a licensed insurance agent for over 20 years, he understands how insurance companies work and how best to get his clients’ claims paid.

In June 2021, Westenbarger filed for bankruptcy protection in Tennessee, declaring debts totaling $1.86 million.

In January 2022, the US bankruptcy trustee filed a document challenging the discharge of Westenbarger’s debts.

According to the U.S. trustee’s complaint to deny the discharge, Westenbarger claimed under oath that he had not given any gifts worth more than $600 within two years of filing for bankruptcy.

HOLIDAYS, DIAMOND RING, LUXURY ACCOMMODATION, GAME

The complaint went on to list Westenbarger’s financial activities leading up to his filing, stating that he:

“Transferred an average of about $6,700 per month to his wife’s bank account”

“Transferred its Coinbase e-money in the year before bankruptcy”

“He flew to Hawaii with his then-fiancé and gave him a 3-carat diamond ring” (allegedly valued at $22,000)

“I got married in a luxury hotel in Las Vegas”

The complaint describes Westenbarger as an “active player, who “holds Platinum Rewards status as a player at MGM Casino,” and “has spent excessive amounts on luxury products and experiences.”

According to the trustee’s complaint, after Westenbarger filed for bankruptcy, he and his wife once again vacationed in Las Vegas and rented a luxury apartment in downtown Nashville for $3,450 a month.

According to Federal Court records, the trustee ultimately dismissed the lawsuit after Westenbarger amended his case.

Even so, Keller & Almassian, a Grand Rapids law firm with extensive experience in bankruptcy proceedings, told Target 8 that it’s exceptionally rare for a trustee in bankruptcy to file a lawsuit to deny discharge in first place.

Lawyers Todd Almassian and Greg Ekdahl estimate that they have handled thousands of bankruptcy proceedings between them.

Almassian said he had seen the government file such complaints only a handful of times in his 25 years.

Almassian and Ekdahl reviewed Westenbarger’s bankruptcy filing and noted that only one creditor, one of the alleged victims in the criminal case, had challenged the debt discharge.

Alamassian explained that the bankruptcy code gives creditors about three months to file an objection.

CREDITOR’S ADVICE: GET ADVICE EARLY

“Most people, unless you have a bankruptcy attorney, it’s really confusing and it goes fast,” Almassian said. “The public policy behind this is to give people a fresh start in life. So if you want to oppose it, you better oppose it quickly…and many people will likely have claims that, if pursued, could also be undischargeable.

Almassian urged creditors to seek advice early.

“If you are a creditor and you receive a notice that someone has filed for bankruptcy, then look at these documents, you have sixty days to object, and it may be in your best interest to speak to a lawyer specializing in bankruptcy,” Almassien said.

In the end, the alleged victim won that battle and the bankruptcy judge refused to release $277,829, along with $117,000 in tax debt.

Westenbarger remains in Tennessee for the time being, and it is not yet known if he will fight extradition to Michigan. Target 8 left messages for Westenbarger and two of his attorneys seeking comment, but did not hear back.

If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

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