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Former agent pays more than $100k in restitution to insurance company

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In a case that has generated headlines in Massachusetts since 2014, a former life insurance agent there is no longer facing criminal charges after recently agreeing to pay $106,533 in restitution in the wake of an insurance fraud case involving 250 allegedly forged final expense and pre-need life insurance applications.

Susan M. Ryder, the now divorced wife of former South Hadley, Mass., funeral home director William W. Ryder, agreed on Nov. 13 to pay the restitution to Columbian Mutual Life Insurance Company, and also agreed to surrender any insurance agent licenses and to not seek reinstatement of any previously issued insurance agent licenses or apply for new licenses.

So how did it come to be that this former agent allowed her name to be on so many fraudulent applications over a whopping 10-year period? It’s a fairly long and sordid story involving a house of cards that would inevitably come crashing down.

The Ryder Funeral Home in South Hadley had been in operation since 1953. It was shut down by state and local authorities in May 2014 when investigators, tipped off by an embalmer working for Ryder, found several unlabeled bodies in various states of decomposition and improperly stored.

Further investigation revealed he allegedly embezzled $375,180 from 70 customers through pre-need funeral arrangements between 2001 and 2014. According to an article on Massachusetts insurance news website Agency Checklists, William Ryder pleaded not guilty to a single indictment alleging insurance fraud and 10 grand larceny indictments at his arraignment on July 15, 2015, after pleading not guilty on June 24 to 56 indictments charging him with grand larceny and five indictments charging him with improper disposition of a human body.

According to a July 15 articlein the Daily Hampshire Gazette, documents from the investigation portrayed Ryder as a “beleaguered funeral director who had been working alone and showing signs of unusual behavior.” He was said to be cooperative, but seemed to only have a marginal understanding of the severity of the situation and the condition of the funeral home was in complete disarray.

A combination of business and personal issues – including separating from his wife and another funeral director and some employees leaving the business – may have created insurmountable problems for Ryder, priming the house of cards to come crashing down.

Getting back to the life insurance fraud, prosecutors allege that between 2004 and 2014, Susan Ryder allowed her husband to sign her name to hundreds of life insurance applications that her husband submitted to Columbian in connection with the funeral home. The transactions resulted in Susan Ryder receiving the $106,533 in commissions, and in other cases, William Ryder misappropriated customers’ premium payments rather than forwarding them to Columbian for which he faces charges.

Susan Ryder’s attorney told the Daily Hampshire Gazette she admitted and knew William Ryder was signing her name to the contracts, and the commission checks were being used to support her and her son. The attorney said Susan Ryder never stole from anyone at the Ryder Funeral Home, but broke her trust as an agent with Columbian Mutual Life Insurance Company in that she knowingly allowed William Ryder to use her name on the applications and still receive commissions for policies that Columbian has honored.

The Assistant District Attorney in the case said Susan Ryder’s willingness to pay the restitution was a major factor in prosecutors agreeing to resolve the case. She had no prior criminal record, and, as the agreement filed in court states, her days of working as an insurance agent are over.

“This is a case that was on the fine line of breach of contract and a crime,” First Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne told the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Agency Checklists says a sale of the funeral home captured proceeds that appear to be sufficient to pay off all of William Ryder’s debts and claims, including back taxes, liens, mortgages and the pre-need funeral services. In addition to the Attorney General’s actions, presently there are eight additional lawsuits brought against him by relatives of deceased whose remains were mishandled by the funeral home.

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