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Former Charles Town insurance agent gets probation

February 18, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A judge on Wednesday accepted a plea agreement in which a former Charles Town insurance agent pleaded no contest to a charge of obtaining money/goods by false pretenses, a prosecutor said.

Under the plea agreement, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. sentenced Jeffrey Smoot to one to 10 years in jail, but suspended the sentence and placed him on five years probation, said Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Larry Crofford.

A no contest plea means a defendant does not admit guilt, but will offer no defense.

Smoot, who is free on bond, initially was charged with six counts of falsifying accounts, forgery of public record and two counts of fraudulent scheme in an insurance case and was charged with embezzlement in a case involving a social club, court records said.

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The charges were never presented to a grand jury, and Crofford said he decided to pursue the case through a possible plea agreement instead of pursuing it before a grand jury.

In the insurance case, an investigator with the West Virginia Office of Insurance Commissioners contacted the Charles Town Police Department in July 2002 and said that Smoot, of 3238 Bower Road, Kearneysville, W.Va., had been the subject of an investigation, according to circuit court records.

Smoot had an office at 114 E. Washington St., and was an agent for Erie Insurance Co., State Auto Insurance and Shelby Insurance Co. The office has since closed, Crofford said.

The investigation alleged that Smoot "improperly withheld, misappropriated, or converted to his own use" money that belonged to policy holders, insurers, beneficiaries or others, according to Crofford and court records.

He also allegedly misrepresented the terms of existing or proposed insurance contracts, court records state.

In one instance, a woman made a payment of $1,603 to Smoot for coverage, but the investigation by the West Virginia Office of Insurance Commissioners revealed no coverage was in place, court records allege.

Smoot allegedly quoted insurance premiums for car insurance or homeowners insurance and would have the application signed by the applicant, court records state. The applications or money would never be forwarded to the insurance company, court records allege.

The embezzlement charge against Smoot involved money that was missing from the Jefferson County Cotillion Club, a social organization that sponsors three dances a year.

On Aug. 6, 2003, West Virginia State Police Trooper James C. Long learned from club members that after the 2002 board member election, the new club treasurer was not provided by Smoot with paperwork or a checkbook regarding the club's account, records state.

Smoot was the club's treasurer from 2000 to 2002.

An audit was performed by Andrew C. Smith of Nichols DeHaven and Associates, and it was determined that $4,894 was missing from the club's checking account, court records state.

Part of Smoot's plea agreement involves making restitution to the Jefferson County Cotillion Club, although that amount of money has not been determined, Crofford said.

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