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I was recently contacted in my official capacity as Chairman of the Certified Medicaid Planner™ Governing Board (the standards board that oversees and operates the CMP™ designation) by an investigative reporter from The Clarion-Ledger who has written several in-depth articles over the past few weeks about Mississippi scam artist and former insurance producer Gina Palasini.

Palasini was arrested in Southern California for taking money from elderly clients according to an August 30, 2014 report in The Clarion-Ledger. She is in the process of being extradited to Mississippi where the charges stem; but it appears that further scams in California may take her back to the Golden State to stand for charges.

In 2006 under the guise of benefit planning, Palasini got caught selling a fraudulent annuity contract and pocketing the cash. The Mississippi Insurance Department learned of the incident and revoked her license that same year.

She continued to operate under numerous names around Mississippi, including “Medicaid Planning Specialists” in Brandon, “Veteran’s Pension Planners of America” in Indianola, and “Senior Benefits Consulting Group” in Leland.

Seven months after her insurance license was revoked, another complaint was filed against Palasini with the Insurance Department. The charge was for withholding a client’s Medicaid application and then lying about it, according to the complaint on file.

In another annuity scam, she was indicted on two counts of false pretense in January 2012 for taking client funds from a Community Spouse meant to go into a Medicaid Compliant Annuity and pocketing the money. She pleaded guilty to only one count in 2013 in exchange for a deal that required full repayment of the funds; however, the court received the first installment payment and the second payment bounced – producing a warrant for her arrest.

But instead of facing punishment, it appears that she moved to California and allegedly continued her conniving ways by pushing VA benefits and further taking more client funds directly.

My only personal knowledge of the case was that the CMP™ Governing Board had been contacted by a consumer to request information about whether Palasini was a Certified Medicaid Planner™. It’s unclear if she was attempting to pass herself off as being certified or if a potential client was attempting to verify if she had any credentials backing up her claims of expertise. According to our records she had never been certified and never sought certification. Additionally, according to the VA website she is not an accredited VA claims agent.

As I was interviewed by the reporter, she was telling me about the various activities in which Palasini was allegedly engaged. They were enough to turn my stomach. Under the guise of benefit planning, she was advising clients to place moneys in an annuity. That technique, as I told the reporter, is not uncommon. I explained the history of Medicaid Compliant Annuities as a way to convert liquid retirement funds into a pension-style income stream to the healthy spouse was a common and legal planning technique.

But Palasini was not licensed to sell an annuity. Instead she was photocopying someone else’s annuity contract and giving it to the client in exchange for the cash. Use of this despicable procedure in the past by scam artists had been termed a “Xerox Annuity” – a term I’m sure the folks at Xerox don’t like being used. It earned that name because insurance agents or non-agents wanting to dupe people would use photocopied contracts and change the name of the owner and the amount to make it appear the client was sold a valid contract while secretly pocketing the client’s cash themselves.

In the latest and ugliest version of the Xerox Annuity, Palasini was convicted of pocketing the cash and has allegedly continued to do the same thing in several numerous cases. According to the reporter, Palasini was having retirement accounts wired directly into her company’s bank account. I was asked whether wire transfers are common or not, to which I replied that they were but I explained that it was not the kind allegedly done by Palasini. In fact, in Medicaid planning it’s very common to have funds wired from one company to another because of the cost of delay if funds are not moved in a timely manner. But I explained that the legitimate process involves wiring money from the current retirement account directly to the insurance company’s account to fund the annuity. Failure to do so properly could have disastrous effects on the client if the source funds are qualified or tax-deferred and are not transferred to an annuity account with a similar tax status.

As I was interviewed I also posited some recommendations for the public to follow which I will repeat and expound on here for everyone’s benefit:

When doing Medicaid planning, deal with a certified professional. If a consumer is attempting to qualify for long-term care Medicaid or seek VA pension benefits, seek the advice of a Certified Medicaid Planner™ or an accredited VA claims agent. Some designations or certifications used by planners can be confusing, misleading or not worth anything because they have no backing. The designation of a planner should be backed up by experience, education, examination, and ethics requirements. The CMP™ designation is one of only six financial designations to have national accreditation according to the FINRA website; any planner who provides services in the long-term care market should seriously consider getting this certification.

Medicaid planners come from a variety of backgrounds because of the overlap between legal, financial and geriatric care/social worker professionals involved in the long-term care Medicaid planning process. Not every profession has its own disciplinary policy or ethical standards. Regardless of professional background, every Certified Medicaid Planner™ is required to abide by a uniform set of client-first ethics and be held accountable to those standards.   Both Certified Medicaid Planners™ and Certified Financial Planners® are held accountable by a disciplinary board within their certification and a public complaint process. Both designations also provide a place on their websites where a consumer can verify the status of an advisor’s credentials.

Most Medicaid planners and benefit advisors are good, solid professionals who help their clients diligently. Insurance and annuity products are used regularly to help with meeting Medicaid and/or VA planning objectives. If a person is purchasing an insurance or annuity product, they should only do so from an insurance agent licensed to sell the product. Consumers can check the state insurance commissioners’ websites to confirm whether a person is licensed or not. Additionally, if a person is making out a check to fund an insurance product, the check should be made payable to the insurance company. Similarly, if money is being wired to fund the product, the wire instructions should direct the funds straight to the insurance company’s account.

And finally, if a consumer receives a contract that they suspect might be a “Xerox Annuity,” they should contact the authorities. Palasini lost her license to sell annuities nearly 8 years ago – but that did not seem to stop her from wreaking havoc in many lives and in many communities. Only when enough people started to complain were the authorities finally alerted to bring her to justice.