INDIANAPOLIS - A financial planner has been arrested by federal agents on charges of stealing his clients' identities so that he could pocket $160,000 of their money.
Ronald W. Nichter, of Greenfield, faced a federal judge this week on eight felony charges of mail fraud and seven felony counts of aggravated identity theft.
Investigators said they tallied numerous transactions between October 2009 and February of this year in which Nichter withdrew money from his clients' investment accounts by forging documents authorizing various transactions or trades.
Nichter is then accused of having checks sent to a post office box that he maintained with his former secretary in Pendleton. Investigators said several of the checks were for $10,000, while others were $5,000 and one was $3,500.
In all, the indictment against Nichter accuses him of pocketing $160,000 by forging the identity information of the clients who trusted him to handle their finances and investments.
Federal investigators said that each transaction involved Nichter filling out false "Letters of Authorization," which are supposed to indicate that a client has personally authorized money to be taken out of his investment account for a particular transaction or trade.
In each case, investigators said those documents were sent to a Florida firm, known as a clearinghouse, which would issue checks in the names of Nichter's clients.
Nichter is then accused of forging the signatures of his own clients after picking those checks up from his post office box. Prosecutors wrote in the indictment, "Nichter would then take custody of the check, endorse the check with the forged signature of the victim client, deposit the check into an account he controlled, and use the proceeds for his personal benefit."
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which issues industry certification for financial advisers, had already barred Nichter from doing business with any of its members after some of his clients complained about missing money and unauthorized trades.
The financial broker's attorney, Monica Foster with the Indiana Federal Community Defender's office, was contacted for Nichter's side of the story. In an email, she wrote, "Mr. Nichter, like all citizens charged with a crime, is presumed innocent. We will look forward to resolving the facts of this case in court."
Nichter waived his formal arraignment at Indianapolis federal court this week and was released from custody on his own recognizance, meaning no cash bond was required.
He could face 20 years in federal prison if he is found guilty of the crimes.