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Former financial adviser pleads guilty to swindling nearly $1 million

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A former employee of Ameriprise Financial Services has pleaded guilty to defrauding clients of more than $980,000, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Susan Walker, 50, of Plymouth, pleaded guilty last week to federal charges of mail fraud and tax evasion in the case.

Walker and her mother, 73-year-old Barbara Stark, were accused by the state Commerce Department in March of stealing money from the retirement accounts of elderly and vulnerable clients to “fund a lavish lifestyle that included multiple vacations, payments for a Lexus, private school tuition and rent.”

They allegedly defrauded at least 24 clients while employed by Ameriprise from 2008-13, according to prosecutors. Ameriprise has reimbursed clients $798,340 in connection with the fraud.

Stark and Walker met their victims through various professional roles as an insurance agent, notary public, certified financial planner, and securities agents, the investigation showed. They made unauthorized withdrawals from retirement accounts and forged signatures on securities and insurance-related documents, according to the Commerce Department.

The two women opened bank accounts in their clients’ names without permission to hold the stolen funds, and the charging document said they spent the money on cruises, hotels, airfare, ATM withdrawals, and even two payments to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

The tax evasion charge comes because Walker failed to report any of the funds obtained through fraud on her tax returns. The total tax loss on her unreported income is approximately $325,000, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Stark has not been indicted on federal charges, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney told the Star Tribune. The Commerce Department investigation into both Stark and Walker is ongoing.

Walker could face up to 25 years in prison, but sentencing guidelines call for a term of 6½ to 8 years, according to the Star Tribune. No sentencing date has been set.

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