Woman Sentenced to 171/2 Years for Southern Illinois Fraud

A southern Illinois insurance agent and securities broker was sentenced to 171/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to an investment scheme that prosecutors said swindled roughly $6 million from dozens of mostly elderly clients.

Victoria McGee-Harris, 59, of St. Louis declined to make a statement during a 61/2 -hour sentencing hearing Friday that was packed with former clients. She pleaded guilty last year, admitting that she used client money from Swansea-based Metro East Insurance Group for personal use, including travel and operation of a chain of clothing stores in Missouri.

Insurer MetLife reimbursed more than $7 million to McGee-Harris’ clients.

Defense attorneys had sought a 10-year sentence for her, arguing that none of the victims’ finances were permanently damaged. U.S. District Judge David Herndon rejected the idea.

“To work hard for most of your life or to inherit money from a loved one and then to turn it over to a trusted person is as American as apple pie. They invest it and you can watch it grow,” Herndon said. “To have that money stolen by someone who didn’t deserve it and didn’t earn it is as bad as it gets.”

McGee-Harris pleaded guilty last March to one count each of mail fraud and engaging in a monetary transaction with property derived from illegal activity.

Prosecutors alleged she was doing business as a licensed insurance agent and securities broker between 2003 and 2010, getting clients to buy products she never purchased.

Internal Revenue Service Special Agent Jeff Anderson testified at the hearing that only 40 percent of client money was handled properly.

U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton said after the hearing that McGee-Harris inflicted considerable “emotion pain, anxiety and depression” on the victims and their families.

“She’s nothing but a financial predator,” Wigginton said.