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FORMER NATIONAL HERITAGE OFFICER, OTHERS CHARGED IN ASSET FRAUD

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ORLANDO, Fla.-A former top officer of the defunct National Heritage Life Insurance Co. and four other men are facing charges that they bilked the insurer of $47 million in a complex series of investment schemes.

While purporting to arrange $23 million in capital contributions to the insurer's parent company, the defendants secretly diverted National Heritage assets totaling more than twice that amount, funneling some of the money back to the company and diverting the rest to their own benefit, a federal indictment charges.

The defendants also produced a variety of bogus documents to conceal the fraud from regulators, prosecutors charge. The schemes effectively inflated the assets and surplus of Delaware-domiciled National Heritage, which was ordered liquidated in 1995 after regulators charged that $200 million of the company's assets were missing.

Named in a 91-count fraud and money laundering indictment are:

Patrick C. Smythe, former chief operating officer of National Heritage and president of its parent company, Maitland, Fla.-based LifeCo Investment Group Inc.

Michael D. Blutrich, a New York lawyer who acted as outside counsel to LifeCo and National Heritage.

Lyle K. Pfeffer, a New York businessman who, with Mr. Blutrich, controlled several corporations used in the alleged fraud.

Shalom Weiss, a New York businessman who controlled several other companies allegedly used to launder diverted funds.

Richard B. Herman, a New York lawyer and one-time partner of Mr. Blutrich, who allegedly helped launder money used in a bogus National Heritage capital contribution.

The five men have been summoned to appear in court Aug. 21. None has yet entered a plea.

Mark Horwitz, an Orlando lawyer who has represented Mr. Smythe during the two-year federal investigation of National Heritage, described the indictment as "overkill" but declined to comment further. He said Mr. Smythe "no longer has the resources" to defend himself in criminal and civil cases stemming from the collapse and likely will seek court-appointed counsel in the criminal case.

A lawyer for Mr. Pfeffer declined to comment. The other defendants and their lawyers could not be reached.

The National Heritage investigation already has produced three convictions. Last December, a federal judge sentenced former National Heritage Treasurer David L. Davies to 84 months in prison and payment of $10.5 million in restitution after he pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion charges (BI, April 15, 1996; March 11, 1996).

Richard M. Plato, a Houston lawyer, pleaded guilty to fraud charges in August 1996 after prosecutors charged him with diverting $16 million in National Heritage funds and laundering $1 million of the money.

Jay I. Bartz, a former LifeCo director, earlier pleaded guilty to money laundering and was sentenced in December 1995 to five years' probation.

In the latest indictment, prosecutors charge that Messrs. Smythe, Blutrich, Pfeffer, Weiss and Herman helped engineer sham capital contributions to National Heritage while siphoning out $47 million of the insurer's assets.

In one example, a company controlled by Messrs. Pfeffer and Blutrich purported to acquire part of a block of problem mortgages from National Heritage for $12 million. The mortgages, which regulators had questioned, included loans the insurer had made to companies Mr. Davies and Mr. Blutrich secretly controlled and to other companies controlled by friends and associates of Mr. Blutrich, according to the indictment.

In return for relieving National Heritage of the loans, the buyer, LPDA Acquisitions Inc., insisted on taking over management of $15 million of the insurer's investments, the indictment says.

LPDA, which had no assets of its own, then pledged the National Heritage investments to secure a $15 million bank line of credit, which it later drew down, using some of the proceeds to pay the insurer for the mortgages and diverting part of the money to the defendants' own benefit, the indictment alleges.

In another instance, Messrs. Smythe, Blutrich and Pfeffer allegedly arranged for the purchase of $11 million of LifeCo stock by a non-existent investment group purportedly headed by Averell Harriman Fisk, a relative of U.S. diplomat Averell Harriman. Mr. Pfeffer gave National Heritage a letter of intent on the deal bearing the forged signature of Mr. Fisk, prosecutors charge.

In return for this investment, Mr. Blutrich and another company controlled by Mr. Pfeffer, Future Diversified Projects Inc., demanded the right to manage another $25 million in National Heritage assets.

The defendants then used these assets to secure a $20 million bank line of credit, which they used to pay for the LifeCo preferred stock, diverting the rest to their own benefit, the indictment charges.

New York-based Standard Chartered Bank, which provided both credit lines, eventually liquidated the National Heritage collateral to pay off the debts, the indictment says.

Messrs. Smythe, Blutrich and Pfeffer, however, concealed the bank loans, causing National Heritage to report receipt of $48.2 million in proceeds from the sale of its assets when in fact only $12.6 million remained after credit lines were paid off, the indictment says.