Joseph Mele booking photo
SANTA BARBARA — 31-year-old Joseph Anthony Mele has been sentenced to 10 years in state prison after entering a no-contest plea to multiple counts of financial elder abuse, grand theft, and embezzlement — all felonies.
Mele is alleged to have used his status as a former insurance agent to gain the trust of two elderly victims and act as their financial planner — buying, selling, and re-buying long-term annuities without their knowledge and ultimately losing them more than $2 million combined.
Manipulating the victims’ policies, Mele rewrote annuities in order to obtain additional commissions under the false impression of being able to provide his clients with better returns. He earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions while the victims instead racked up over $650,000 in surrender, penalty, and lost premium fees.
Department of Insurance Investigator Tamara Kessler saw things put right and made sure the victims were re-compensated for the fees, which turned out to be the only thing standing between one of the victims and the loss of her home.
In addition to sketchy sales practices, Mele is also said to have advised one of the victims to sign blank checks of over $800,000 with a plan to invest the funds for her. It was instead deposited into Mele’s checking account and used for personal leisures — entertainment, extravagant vacations, plastic surgery, etc.
Mele was remanded into custody at the conclusion of his trial and is set to begin his 10-year sentence.