CONWAY, Mass | Thu Nov 17, 2011 7:21pm EST (Reuters) - Two Rhode Island men were charged last week with conspiring to steal the identities of elderly and terminally-ill people to set up investments that reaped more than $25 million in death benefits from insurance companies and bond issuers.

A 66-count federal indictment details a scheme prosecutors said was carried out by Joseph Caramadre, 49, CEO of Estate Planning Resources, based in Cranston, Rhode Island, and his employee, Raymour Radhakrishnan, 27.

Authorities said the two men obtained personal identity data from potential victims and their families and then set up more than 200 variable annuities and 75 brokerage accounts to buy so-called "death puts," or survivor benefits, in the victims' names without their knowledge or consent.

The two defendants "either forged the signatures of terminally-ill people on account documents or obtained the signatures by means of misrepresentations," Peter Neronha, U.S. Attorney for the District of Rhode Island, said in a statement.

"When the terminally-ill person died, it is alleged that Caramadre and others reaped substantial profits by exercising death benefits associated with the investments," Neronha said.

"The scheme allegedly generated more than $25 million in illicit profits," he said.

Prosecutors said Caramadre launched the scheme in 1995 and Radhakrishnan became involved in 2007, when Caramadre hired him.

To carry out the scam, the pair took out ads in a newspaper offering a charitable gift of $2,000 to terminally-ill individuals, prosecutors said. Radhakrishnan would then meet with respondents, give them money, and assess their life expectancy, they said.

If a person seemed likely to die soon, the defendants would use deception or forgery to obtain a signature on account opening documents, prosecutors said.

The defendants were also accused of misleading insurance companies, brokerage houses and other corporate entities by falsely claiming that the terminally-ill people were clients of Caramadre's law practice.

Both men were charged with conspiracy and multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, identity theft, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. Caramadre also was charged with one count of witness tampering.

The charges followed a two-year investigation by the FBI, the Postal Inspection Service and the criminal investigation unit of the Internal Revenue Service.

(Reporting by Zach Howard; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

© 2010 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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