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An Adviser (Mine) Is Charged With Fraud

About two months ago, I wrote a column about how Matthew Weitzman, our family’s financial planner, was under investigation for reportedly siphoning money from clients’ accounts.

Well, the ax finally fell on Wednesday. The Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of looting client accounts of at least $6 million and using them “as his personal piggy bank.” It accused him of spending the money he took on a multimillion-dollar home, luxury cars and a share in a horse. Mr. Weitzman agreed to settle the claims without admitting or denying the accusations, though the S.E.C. is unsure about how much money his clients will get back.

Meanwhile, the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also unsealed charges against Mr. Weitzman. They include fraud, lying to investors and converting money for his own use. Some of the charges carry maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

Mr. Weitzman declined to comment on the charges and hung up on me. His lawyer, Marc Mukasey, said he was reviewing the accusations and declined to comment further.

Sure, fraud happens. Yes, people steal. But the S.E.C. complaint paints a picture of a man set on aiming at the vulnerable. The complaint lists a roster of victims, including an elderly couple with compromised mental capabilities; a 24-year-old law student who had inherited $1 million from her parents; and Mr. Weitzman’s own father-in-law, who may be out $3 million.

Patricia Flinn, a Brewster, N.Y., resident and a former client of Mr. Weitzman’s, met him when her husband was told, six months after they had married, that he had cancer. “He told Matt that he wanted to be sure that his wife would be taken care of.”

As her husband, William Adcock, lay dying, however, Mr. Weitzman helped himself to Mr. Adcock’s money, including one withdrawal on the day that Mr. Weitzman served as a witness when Mr. Adcock changed his will, Ms. Flinn said. After he died, Mr. Weitzman began taking Ms. Flinn’s money instead, she recalled. According to the government charges, he usually used forms with forged signatures to wire money from client accounts at Charles Schwab to an account that he controlled.

A Schwab spokesman said it had intensive controls in place to prevent this problem, but declined to elaborate for fear of tipping off potential offenders.

Ms. Flinn said she did not notice the withdrawals until Schwab representatives and Mr. Weitzman’s former business partner alerted her to the problems. “I never opened my husband’s mail,” she said. “I was in the hospital every day for three months. I was preoccupied with Bill’s health.”

A few peers of Mr. Weitzman in the financial planning world have accused me of hammering away at this because of my personal involvement. They’ve got it wrong. The reason this is, in many ways, more important than the Bernard Madoff scheme is that Mr. Weitzman’s clients were merely upper middle class. You didn’t have to be famous or play golf at the right clubs to work with Mr. Weitzman.

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So most readers of this newspaper could be victims in other similar situations. I almost was. Your parents or grandparents might be vulnerable. It is hard to guard against outright theft or fraud, but you can at least read your statements carefully to watch out for it.

And if you have family members who are old, infirm or ill-informed, read the statements for them. The odds of someone trying to steal may well be highest when his victims are paying the least amount of attention.

If you know Mr. Weitzman, please get in touch with me at rlieber@nytimes.com.