Take one highly decorated police detective with a stellar 25-year career with the Baltimore Police Department. Add in his supervisory experience.

Michael J. Stefanowitz patrol car from his time as a decorated officer.

Michael J. Stefanowitz patrol car from his time as a decorated officer.

 

Throw in a second 10-year investigative career in the insurance industry. For good measure, include his Employee of the Month awards.

What does all that equate to? Termination and an immediate escort from the premises.

Michael J. Stefanowitz is reflected in a shadow box commemorating his career with the Baltimore police department.

Michael J. Stefanowitz is reflected in a shadow box commemorating his career with the Baltimore police department.

Two years ago, Lawrence Mieras, Jr. received $500,000 from a deceased client, Addie Belle Jones. Two of her variable annuities paid him directly and outside of the estate process. Ms. Jones had made the bequest to Mr. Mieras in her will in 2014, and just a few months before she died, she signed documents allowing him to receive the money without going through probate.

In May of 2016, Mr. Mieras visited Ms. Jones in Maryland. He said that it was at that point that he learned that she had named him a beneficiary to one-quarter of her estate, identifying him as a friend, not a financial adviser. 

Records indicate that during this meeting, Mr. Mieras advised her to move the annuities into an account that, upon her death, would direct their payments to her beneficiaries from the insurance companies and avoid probate court.

He brought the necessary forms with him for Ms. Jones to sign, documents show. 

In the federal lawsuit filed by lawyers for Ms. Jones’s estate, it is contended that she didn’t understand the transfer documents she signed.

In a 2018 affidavit submitted to federal court by her doctor concluded: “It is highly doubtful on May 4, 2016, that Addie Belle Jones was competent to understand what Mr. Mieras was explaining or reading to her or asking her to sign.” 

The affidavit states that even though he claimed that he just learned during that meeting about his eventual inheritance, he brought all the required documentation to be able to circumvent the estate with his.

According to the code of ethics for American Portfolios, a company that provides regulatory for independent brokers and financial advisers, requires the reporting of potential bequests over $100 and to receive prior approval for them. Arbitration records show that Mr. Mieras did not follow the proper protocols.

His supervisors say he did not learn of this bequest until after Ms. Jones death. Arbitration transcripts reveal Mieras as saying he maintained her account after becoming her beneficiary because “there wasn’t anyone that would be able to handle her investments the way that I did.”

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) convened an arbitration panel to hear a complaint filed on behalf of Ms. Jones’s estate. The panel criticized Mr. Mieras for his conduct and for his failure to notify his firm of the bequest. They concluded that his actions were “not consistent with just and equitable principles of trade,” which is in direct opposition of the statements made by Mieras’s attorney.

“Everything that Mr. Mieras did on May 4th was exactly what Ms. Jones wanted and was in accordance with her Will. It was also in accordance with best practices in the securities and insurance industries,” Mitchell Cobert said.  

It was also determined that American Portfolios was not qualified under state rules to conduct business in the state of Maryland for three and a half years before and after MS. Jones’s death.

After months of inquiry, Maryland Insurance Administration official Michael J. Stefanowitz concluded that Mr. Mieras violated state insurance laws and “engaged in unethical behavior.” Mr. Stefanowitz recommended the administration fine Mr. Mieras, now 72-years-old, and revoke his insurance license in the state.

Instead, after making these recommendations, and just days after receiving a favorable employee review, he was fired.

Mr. Stefanowitz said an insurance-administration official told him he was being fired because the enforcement unit was “going in a different direction.” After 10 years of commendable service, Stefanowitz received no severance and got a security escort from the office immediately after he was terminated.

Michael J. Stefanowitz's shadow box commemorating his career with the Baltimore police department.

Michael J. Stefanowitz’s shadow box commemorating his career with the Baltimore police department.

 

The Administration overruled Stefanowitz. In a letter to lawyers from Ms. Jones’s estate, they stated that no violations occurred, and the investigation was closed.

Despite her doctor’s testimony of regarding her state of mind, the lack of reporting by Mieras, and other evidence to the contrary, compiled by an investigator with 35 years’ experience, 10 years with the Administration, and multiple awards and positive evaluations, evidence which coincided with the findings of the FINRA advisory panel, they deemed that no violations occurred.

Alfred W. Redmer, Jr., the Maryland Insurance Administration Commissioner, who declined to discuss specifics said:

“The decisions regarding producers are made by the career, subject matter experts that we have in our agency. The bar is, did a producer violate the law or regulation. There are some actions that a producer will take that we may personally view as inappropriate, but if it doesn’t violate the law there is no action we can take.”

Emails between Stefanowitz and two of his superiors indicate that the decisions were made because of how a high-ranking official and Mr. Redmer felt about the case.

As to his firing, the Administration would not comment.

“Like every other state agency in every other state, we never, ever comment on personnel decisions,” they said.

Mieras was not required to forfeit any of they $500,000 he received. There were no fines or license revocations.

But somehow, after 35-years of investigative expertise, an impeccable record, employee of the month awards and glowing reviews, Mr. Stefanowitz was fired for doing exactly what he had been hired to do.