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Healthcare or lack thereof: “A Very Strange Scandal” – Lessons on survivor’s option, from Wall Street!

Dec 1, 2013

Stephen Gandel has recently reported in the Fortune magazine about SEC prosecuting a pair for ripping off the terminally ill, but the “victims” are telling a different story.

‘In mid-September the Securities and Exchange Commission said it had foiled what sounded like the most heinous financial crime since Bernie Madoff’s. A father and son in Lexington, S.C., had run a scheme that, according to SEC, targeted the financially strapped terminally ill, netting the pair $6.5 million from 44 individuals, milking them all the way to the grave. On the day the charges were announced, Kenneth Israel, a regional director at the SEC, said the Stapleses, both named Ben, “turned the misfortune of others into a profit-making enterprise for themselves.” But, bizarrely, others were benefitting from the Stapleses’ scheme – the very people the SEC alleges the pair were ripping off: the terminally ill and their heirs.

The reason the Stapleses could pull off a scheme that seemingly benefits everyone begins with corporate bond offerings and a little-known provision called a survivor’s option. If you buy a bond and die, your heirs are allowed to cash in the bond at face value immediately rather than having to wait until it matures. The survivor’s option is meant for estate planning purposes. On Wall Street some call it a death put. Issuers have used the provision to attract elderly couples – a key debt-buying demographic.

Starting in the mid-2000s, a small group of investors saw another use for death puts: Fissures that would eventually lead to financial crisis were starting to form, causing the price of some normally safe corporate bonds to trade at steep discounts, and the investors began recruiting terminally ill people to buy up the discounted bonds in joint accounts. When terminally ill died, the investors were able to cash in the bonds and turn a quick profit.

Among this group of investors who saw an opportunity in death puts was Ben S. Staples, an accountant. Brenda Eason, 51, said she heard of Staples from a co-worker of hers when her sister, Patricia, 41, was dying of breast cancer in 2011. Eason’s mother had died, and she had to scrape together money to pay for the funeral. Eason’s co-worker said she knew someone who could help her sister, who didn’t have health insurance. Eason and Patricia met Staples and signed up. A few months later another one of Eason’s sisters, Cheryl, 43, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Cheryl signed up with Staples as well. When Patricia and Cheryl died, Eason says that each time she received the $5000 Staples promised, which she used to pay for the funerals. She says she doesn’t see herself or her sisters as victims. “He gave money to people who had nothing at a time we needed it most,” Eason says.’

‘The SEC sees it differently. It appears from the complaint that the SEC’s main beef is that the Stapleses defrauded corporate issuers by saying these were joint accounts, while the SEC claims the terminally ill had no real control over the accounts. In the end, it’s difficult to pin down just who was defrauded.’

From → Articles, Healthcare

  1. Jannelle D permalink

    These “victims” received $5000 while the Staples received $6.5 MILLION. No, I don’t see that the victims were taken advantage of. He’s probably paying them to speak up for him and his sons now. Some of these families obviously are still just as stupid, even after they were told of this scam Ben Staples pulled on their loved one!

    • Many thanks for that interesting insight!

    • Thanks Jannelle,

      Do you believe a nimble management on this front would help nip such ‘adventurers’ in the bud?

      There is so much that large and complex emerging economies/ societies like India and China can learn from the US. Ideally, learn not to allow their repeat.

      Yes there will always be gullible and naive people in all societies. How do we defend or protect them?


  2. By the way, I have brought this out as a sequel to my blog of May 28th, 2013. Thanks..

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