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LO adviser settles fraud case

Attorney General Hardy Myers announced the filing of a settlement agreement last week with a Lake Oswego financial adviser.

Named in an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance filed in the Clackamas County Circuit Court is Robert F. Skinner, also known as Toby Skinner, owner of Toby Skinner and Associates, LLC, of Lake Oswego. The AVC admits no law violation.

The agreement curtails a part of Skinner's business focused on advising elderly veterans and widows without being certified to do so and illegally charging for the advice.

'For a fee, Skinner illegally advised elderly veterans and widows of vets on how to qualify and apply for special government programs to obtain benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,' Myers said.

Federal law requires organizations and individuals, including lawyers, to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as accredited representatives and to certify that they will not charge for assistance in helping people file claims for VA benefits.

The Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs is a state agency that advocates for and assists Oregon veterans, their dependents and survivors to ensure that they receive all benefits they are entitled to and may qualify for.

'It is always difficult to hear when individuals target veterans who have defended the freedoms of this country, and their families and misrepresent themselves solely for monetary profit,' said ODVA Director Jim Willis.

Oregon Department of Justice investigators first learned of the allegations in 2007 from officials at the Washington County Veterans Unit in Hillsboro.

Officials were concerned that elderly vets and widows were paying for incorrect information from someone with no authority to give it or charge for it.

Investigators found that Skinner, a self-described financial adviser and semi-retired insurance salesman, had attended a seminar in Ohio that focused on using annuities as part of a strategy to obtain VA benefits and Medicaid coverage.

Skinner told his clients to gift assets to a third party, usually a family member, then direct them to immediately purchase an annuity. The relative would be the owner of the policy and the senior would be the annuant on whose age the policy is based.

The income from the annuity would go to the relative for disbursement. According to Skinner, the basic idea was to reduce the senior's income to make the senior eligible for government benefits he or she would otherwise not qualify for.

Skinner also charged five seniors for 'estate plans' and was only able to produce one under a request from DOJ investigators.

Under the settlement agreement, Skinner must immediately cease advertising any association with the VA, either verbally or in printed materials, and he must stop all attempts to obtain contracts or agreements with assisted living facilities in Oregon for the purpose of assisting residents with applications for veterans' benefits of any kind.

Skinner provided more than $4,000 in restitution to five individuals named in the agreement.

Other consumers should file complaints with the Attorney General's consumer protection office before May 1 to possibly receive restitution from Skinner through DOJ.

After May 1, any new complaints will be referred directly to Skinner for reimbursement. Skinner also paid $5,650 to the DOJ Consumer Protection and Education Fund.

Consumers wanting more information about this case and consumer protection in general in Oregon may call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at 503- 229-5576. DOJ is online at www.doj.state.or.us .

Oregon veterans and widows of veterans wanting more information about obtaining veterans benefits may contact the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs at 1-800-828-8801 or visit their Web site at www.oregon.gov/ODVA . The US Department of Veterans Affairs can be reached at 1-800-827-1000.