SHANE PARIS SISSOKO was three months old when he was murdered in Montgomery County in 2001. Lemuel Wallace, 37, blind and developmentally disabled, was shot to death in 2009 in a Baltimore park. Latiqua Cherry, a Prince George’s mother, was stabbed nine times before her body was set on fire in May 2015. Prince McLeod Rams was 15 months old when he was drowned or suffocated in Virginia in October 2012.
Common to all of these deaths is that the killer had secretly insured the victims’ lives and made themselves sole beneficiaries. The apparent ease with which the killers were able to obtain policies shows that sufficient safeguards are not in place. Particularly worrisome — actually, horrifying — are the instances in which, with little or no scrutiny, hundreds of thousands of dollars of insurance is obtained on the lives of young and very vulnerable children.
Each state establishes regulations for the insurance industry, and insurers establish underwriting guidelines for the sale, review and approval of policies. Compliance can be spotty, particularly with independent agents anxious for sales and commissions. That much of the business is now conducted online makes it easier for someone with bad intent. That certainly seemed to be the case in the death of Cherry. Two months before her murder, ex-boyfriend Maurice Wigfall went shopping on the web for a policy that didn’t require a medical exam. After submitting what prosecutors believe was her forged signature, he purchased a $50,000 policy. He was sentenced this month to life in prison.
Dennis Jay of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud told us there are ample ways the industry could tighten procedures and police those involved in selling these policies. Nowhere is this more critical, Mr. Jay wrote in a recent letter to this page, than when young children are involved.
In finding Moussa Sissoko guilty of killing his son during last year’s retrial, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Michael Mason asked: “Why would you put a $750,000 policy on a newborn infant? It seems to make no sense, just on its face.” Why didn’t that question occur to the company writing that policy? Why did an insurer sell a $444,083 policy — one of three — on Prince, also killed by his father? If, as the industry claims, it sets rigorous standards, wouldn’t a simple credit check have revealed Prince’s father was lying when he claimed his income was $200,000 and his net worth $2 million?
Two terrible cases in the state of Washington prompted lawmakers to impose new procedures and standards for the sale of juvenile life insurance policies: the drowning in 1999 of a 10-year-old boy adopted by a couple in financial distress who purchased $650,000 in life insurance, and the 2003 drowning of a 3-year-old by her stepfather, who had a $200,000 policy on her. New York sets maximum life insurance limits for juveniles. Other states, including Maryland and Virginia, need to follow their lead and tighten a system that turns children into prey.
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