November 1, 2014

Medina
Rain
40°F

Former insurance agent sentenced

MEDINA — An insurance agent who used to own a Medina firm was sentenced to seven years in prison Monday for bilking about $685,000 from nine clients.

Damon Bryan, 41, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and six counts of theft from the elderly. The crimes ranged from first- to fourth-degree felonies.

County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Razavi said most of the victims were elderly and all but one of them — Bryan’s grandmother who lives in Nebraska — were from Northeast Ohio.

A county grand jury indicted Bryan in August on 27 counts of theft. But, the Medina County Prosecutor’s Office agreed to drop 19 of the charges in exchange for Bryan’s guilty pleas to the remaining counts. The Prosecutor’s Office also recommended the seven-year sentence.

During sentencing, Common Pleas Judge Christopher J. Collier asked Bryan why he stole from his clients.

“I did this because I was weak, and I was sick, and I was taking the easy road,” Bryan said. He told Collier he used the money to buy a camper and boat, Cleveland Cavaliers tickets, electronics for his home and other items.

Collier suggested that greed made Bryan take the money.

“When you become more important than anything else in the world, that’s what greed is. That’s what you are,” Collier said.

Also Monday, Bryan’s ex-wife, Terri Bryan, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years of probation for failing to report the thefts, a misdemeanor. Razavi said she learned about the thefts after they were committed.

Terri Bryan originally was indicted on 27 complicity to commit theft counts because her signature appeared on documents involved in the case, but the charges were dropped.

“The investigation had revealed that (Damon) had forged her name to documents and she had no involvement in the thefts,” Razavi said.

Damon Bryan said in court Monday he invested his clients’ money with annuity companies. He later would send letters that asked the companies to return some of the money and had the checks sent to him.

The Ohio Department of Insurance reported that it discovered the thefts when an insurance company reported suspicious activity in one of his accounts.

Jarrett Dunbar, spokesman for the Department of Insurance, said Monday the department began its investigation in October 2006. Dunbar said Bryan voluntarily surrendered his insurance license when the department brought the findings of its investigation to him in May 2007.

County Prosecutor Dean Holman said the Department of Insurance notified him about the case in 2007 and he awaited the results of the department’s investigation before bringing charges against Bryan.

Shortly after he was indicted in August, however, Bryan fled to Bucerias, Mexico, where U.S. marshals apprehended him in November. He was taken to Arizona and extradited to Medina County in January.

Most of the money taken from Bryan’s victims has been returned, the Prosecutor’s Office reported. However, Collier read letters from several of the victims in which they said they are still affected by the theft. They said they lost interest on the money and are still expected to pay some taxes on it.

One victim called Bryan “the scum of the Earth” and another told Collier to hang him.

“I was ashamed of being taken advantage of. My husband would turn in his grave if he saw all the money he worked so hard for was being mishandled,” one victim wrote.

Jody Potts-Hayes, of Wadsworth, whose great-aunt Loretta Pittman was swindled by Bryan, said Pittman trusted Bryan like a son.

“He just weaseled her in and made her think he was the answer to her prayers. She thought he was going to take her in; he was going to advise her and make the last of her days better,” Potts-Hayes said in court.

Pittman died before Bryan admitted to the charges.

“She really just could not believe how badly he had taken advantage of her. In the end, she had just given up,” Potts-Hayes said. “She had thought that he had just won.”

Contact Maria Kacik at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com.