On Thursday, April 29, charges were filed in the Circuit Court of Webster County against Lacey E. Stokes, of Marshfield. Stokes has been charged with Stealing $750 or more and two counts of Financial Exploitation of an Elderly Person.
“These charges best fit the elements of the crime under the circumstances,” explained Prosecuting Attorney Ben Berkstresser. “The stealing charge is a Class D felony which offers a range of punishment of up to seven years and the financial exploitation charge… because the aggravative amount of the theft is more than $5,000 it’s actually a Class C felony, which carries a larger range of punishment.”
A Class C felony can land a person in the Missouri Department of Corrections for a term of no less than three years and not to exceed 10 years, or by fine of up to $10,000.
According to the probable cause statement, two persons in their 70s filed a report with the Marshfield Police Department on April 16, claiming they purchased multiple insurance policies from Lacey Stokes of L Stokes Agency, LLC. They later learned that the policies they paid for were either suspended or canceled.
“Generally, there were immediate suspensions happening. The insurance company would provide documentation of coverage based upon what they were asked to do from the agent… Then the victims were provided documentation that stated they were covered,” explained Detective Joe Taylor of the Marshfield Police Department. “Insurance documents can say you’re covered for a year, but you can make a single payment and the paperwork will still say you’re covered for a year. But if you don’t make any more payments toward the coverage, then you’re not. That’s what’s happened a lot in this case.”
Probable cause states that the victims provided $5,300 for auto, farm, home, cabin, and boat dock insurance. Documentation shows that Stokes Agency was paid $1,536.53 for a farm and home policy and $362.50 for a rental home policy in Dec. 2020. The victim also provided proof of a $1,406.44 payment for a cabin and dock policy as well as $2,075 for an auto policy covering four vehicles in January of this year.
The provided documents show the farm, home and auto policies are through SAFECO and the rental home policy is through AEGIS. The cabin and dock policy was allegedly hand-written by Stokes and showed coverage and deductible information, however the victim had never seen or received an actual policy from SAFECO, only the handwritten paper from Stokes. According to the report, the victim spoke with SAFECO directly and was told a policy was never generated to cover his cabin and dock.
The victim’s policy documentation from SAFECO showed their homeowners policy would be canceled on April 1 while they still owed $519.20. The documentation states that SAFECO had not received requested information. The copy of the AEGIS policy showed the victims still owed $695. According to the victim, they paid Stokes $362.50 for this policy. They stated they paid this amount for six months of coverage, but when AEGIS tried to pull the retainer, $332.50, from the Stokes Agency, the money was not there. They stated this policy was cancelled on Jan. 9, leaving them without coverage.
The auto policy provided by the victim showed they paid $2,075 on Jan. 14, but the documents show the policy was changed effective Feb. 28 with an additional premium of $170.73. The victim told Det. Taylor that they contacted SAFECO and were told they never received any payment for this auto policy.
The victims claimed to have been detrimentally effected by Stokes obtaining control of their money by deceit and promising a service which she did not intend to perform. They lost thousands of dollars for coverage that was not provided and they now have to spend thousands more to obtain legitimate coverage due to the lack of action by Stokes. The victims also reported that when they contacted Stokes regarding the policies, she would tell them that there were no issues. Their recent attempts at contacting her were unsuccessful.
“This is still an ongoing investigation… Other individuals have come forward with complaints and may be in contact with law enforcement, which could lead to more victims,” added Berkstresser. “We are waiting on the investigation to reveal the facts of the case.”
“Any citizen can also call the Attorney Generals office to file a report if they think there’s been fraudulent business activity,” offered Marshfield Police Chief Doug Fannen. “It’s not as uncommon as you think and they do look into those claims.”
“The Marshfield Police Department is currently investigating three other cases and the state licensing agency is investigating nine regarding Stokes as well,” confirmed Taylor.
Detective Taylor initially contacted the Missouri Department of Commerce and Insurance on April 22, who reported an active investigation on Stokes, including the nine open cases which involve taking money from customers who then did not receive insurance coverage. Although the Department of Commerce does not have legal authority, their findings will be submitted to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
During the investigation, Taylor also reached out to SAFECO and spoke with a senior analyst who confirmed the company is conducting their own investigation regarding Stokes. When asked about the auto policy, the SAFECO analyst said there was a policy, however SAFECO had never received payment for the policy. Taylor also inquired about the farm and home policy, which was confirmed to be canceled because SAFECO didn’t receive payment. The analyst also stated that she was not aware of any cabin and dock policy through SAFECO when Taylor asked.
The probable cause statement said when Stokes was interviewed by MPD on April 23, she was advised of her Miranda rights and stated she had an attorney but signed the form to speak with Taylor anyway. She alleged in the interview that she did not withhold any money. Taylor asked about the hand-written policy that she said was through SAFECO. Stokes stated that there was never a SAFECO policy for this, but rather that it was through Liberty Mutual.
The statement shows that Stokes purportedly mailed a refund of $3,325 back to the couple who filed the report for the auto and rental home properties. Stokes also claimed in the interview that she could refund the victims for their dock and cabin policy, which was actually through State Auto.
When Det. Taylor told Stokes the companies had not received any payments, Stokes claimed “that’s something we’re working on on our side.”
Taylor also asked why the victims were not made aware of their policies being through other companies, to which she responded “at some point there becomes a time where you’re tired of the negativity. Every time he comes in he wants to threaten something.”
While Det. Taylor and the MPD continues to investigate these reports, he and Chief Fannen offered advice to the community who may have been affected by similar crimes.
“Never pay in cash, even if you get a receipt you don’t know where that money is going. Always pay with a check or debit card because cash is the easiest thing for anyone to steal… and if you’ve received a hand-written policy, I would consider that a red flag as well. If you have any questions about a policy or receipts that just aren’t adding up, bypass your agent and call your insurance company directly,” Fannen said. “If you find that a crime has been committed, you need to contact the police department. Any crime that occurs in Marshfield needs to be reported through the MPD. Regardless of where you live, you have to report the crime where it happened.”
“Just trust your gut,” added Taylor. “If something doesn’t seem right then follow up on it and verify that you are covered.”
Stokes was arrested when the police interview concluded and placed on a 24-hour hold. Her initial appearance in court will be May 11 at 10 a.m.
According to court records, Stokes pleaded guilty to five cases of passing a bad check on Aug. 18, 2020.
All persons charged with a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Criminal charges are not evidence of a crime.