PHILADELPHIA >> A Delaware man was sentenced to four years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $314,000 restitution for scamming two victims out of their savings in bogus investment opportunities, including a Nether Providence widow.
James Grant Wagner, 49, of the 100 block of Old Mill Road in Dover, entered guilty pleas in April to two counts of wire fraud in connection with the scam, according to online court records.
The widow filed a police report for theft in June 2017, according to a release from Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland. The woman told police that Wagner was the live-in boyfriend of her niece and that she had known him since 2010.
“The victim described Wagner as a very charismatic individual who was looked upon as a member of the family,” according to the release.
When the woman’s husband died in 2013, she said Wagner approached her about an investment opportunity instead of allowing her money to sit idle in a savings account, according to the release.
“According to the victim, she believed that Wagner was a legitimate business person, and was grateful for his consideration in wanting to further her financial portfolio,” the release states. “This time period in her life continued to be very stressful with the recent passing of her husband, and she relied upon Wagner to be a stabilizing force in her life.”
Wagner told the widow that he had established a private energy distribution company called My Energy Expert LLC, which provided energy customers with new ways of purchasing their gas and electric services, according to a criminal information filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
He induced the widow to invest by offering fraudulent documentation that purported to show customer lists, contracts and commission sheets.
“In reality, My Energy Expert was not a registered company, did not provide energy services or products of any kind, had no customers, and was a fictitious company created by Wagner for use in this fraudulent scheme,” the information says.
Wagner transmitted approximately $243,950 from the victim’s PNC Bank accounts to his own accounts in Delaware between June 2013 and July 2015, according to the information.
“Essentially, Wagner was living off money transferred to him from the victim, under the guise of the business deal for the energy contracts,” according to the release.
The victim had not seen any returns on her investment by February 2017 and began asking questions. Wagner claimed the customers were still being acquired and that the money would be returned shortly.
The widow began aggressively seeking her money by the end of February 2017 and wanted it returned in full, or to see where it had been invested, according to the release. Wagner responded that the customer contracts would be sold to another business and that the widow would see an even larger return on her investment.
“The defendant in this case preyed upon a vulnerable, grieving widow, who trusted him as a close family friend,” said Copeland in the release. “His actions are despicable and abhorrent. Individuals like Mr. Wagner, who take advantage of their positions and of vulnerable members of our community, will be held accountable for their actions and the sentence imposed should send a clear signal to those who abuse their positions of trust and power.”
Wagner also preyed upon a second victim after learning that she had received a lump sum payout of retirement funds in August 2015, according to the information.
In that scheme, Wagner induced the victim to provide him with approximately $70,500 from her IRA account between August 2015 and November 2016 with false promises that it would be invested in real estate.
In furtherance of that scheme, Wagner would partially “reimburse” the retiree with checks from time to time, but the accounts related to those checks had either already been closed or did not contain sufficient funds, according to the information.
In addition to prison time, Wagner was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay a total $314,450 in restitution.
The investigation was conducted by Detectives Daniel McFarland and Timothy Deery of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Edward Conway. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Rotella prosecuted the case before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe. Wagner was represented by Media attorney Stephen Schukraft.