Feb. 16–An accountant from Baton Rouge stole roughly $2 million that the historically troubled New Orleans Firefighters Pension and Relief Fund gave to him to invest in life insurance policies — and then used the money to gamble, finance home improvements and pay off debts, federal prosecutors allege.
Wayne Triche faces charges of wire fraud and falsely reporting his income on several tax returns in a 38-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury Thursday.
Triche didn’t immediately respond to a message left for him at his office Friday.
According to the indictment, the New Orleans Firefighters Pension and Relief Fund loaned $5 million to a company that Triche co-founded so the firm could buy life insurance policies as investments that officials hoped would generate profits.
Life insurance holders will sometimes sell their policies to investors who hope that the benefits paid out by the policy will be more than it cost to purchase and maintain it.
Triche’s company received more than $6 million in benefits from life insurance policies purchased as investments on behalf of the Firefighters Pension and Relief Fund, the feds said. But less than $3 million of that made its way back to the fund.
Triche took a large portion of that money and transferred it to a set of bank accounts under his control, said the indictment obtained by U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser’s office.
The indictment highlights 34 unauthorized transactions totaling more than $1.8 million between 2013 and 2016. Aside from gambling, home improvements and credit card payments, Triche used the money to pay a civil judgment and cover other living expenses, the indictment said.
He then failed to report that income on his 2011 to 2014 tax returns, the government said.
Triche could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if convicted of the charges, which resulted from an investigation by the FBI and IRS.
Attorney Louis Robein represents New Orleans firefighters in pension issues and said Thursday that retirement fund officials had cooperated with the feds. He declined further comment, citing the pending case.
The fund collects money that firefighters and the city pay toward their retirement. It invests that money and then pays out benefits as necessary.
It has long been underfunded because of low city payments as well as investments that have performed poorly.
Triche founded American Pension Consultants along with George Russell in 2002 records show. He assumed control of the company after Russell died a few years later, according to the indictment.
An arraignment date for Triche hadn’t immediately been set Friday.
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