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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : opinions : opinions February 06, 2016

3/15/2009 9:31:00 PM
Talk of the Town: Financial fraud cases sad, difficult
Special to the Courier

On March 12, Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Thomas Lindberg of the handed down significant prison sentences to three individuals involved in a local investment scam.

The defendants did business under the name of Senior Life Assessment Management, claiming to be senior investment advisors. The investment fraud took place throughout Yavapai County between 2002 and 2005, and involved the theft of $1.6 million dollars from 21 local elderly investors.

Stephen Cottrell, a 65-year-old Mesa man, received 10 years in prison; Tyson Hiland, a 32-year-old Anthem man, received 10 years prison, and his brother, Travis Hiland, a 39-year-old Prescott Valley man, received 9 years.

Although equally deserving of prison, defendant Joseph Hiland, the father of Tyson Hiland and Travis Hiland, received 7 years supervised intensive probation because of his significant health and medical issues. The cost for his health care would have been on the taxpayers if he went to prison.

The court also ordered each of the defendants to make monthly payments toward the $1,663,849.71 of restitution to the victims.

The Yavapai County Attorney's Office and the Prescott Police Department partnered with the Arizona Corporation Commission to investigate and prosecute this case. The case involved more than 500 court exhibits, multiple witnesses and the comprehensive forensic analysis of the defendants' bank accounts performed by an expert financial investigator from the Arizona Corporation Commission. The investigator subpoenaed and analyzed records for six different bank accounts, examining hundreds of checks and tracking the laundering of funds from victims through various bank accounts into the pockets of the defendants. The sentencing hearing alone took nine court days to complete.

I am grateful for the partnership with the Arizona Corporation Commission. This complex case is beyond the limited resources of my office and we could not have achieved these results without the commission's help and expertise.

The case took several years to investigate and prosecute, and hundreds of hours of hard work by all involved. From the beginning, the Arizona Corporation Commission recognized the importance of aggressively pursuing these four individuals who specifically targeted vulnerable senior citizens throughout Yavapai County.

Although difficult and resource-intensive, it is imperative that authorities continue to aggressively prosecute and punish crimes of this nature. Most of the victims in this case grew up during the Great Depression, and many testified they began working full-time straight out of eighth grade. All of the investors worked hard over their lifetimes to save for their retirement.

The financial loss has been devastating. Most of the victims will never recover and will, instead, live out their years on Social Security income.

Because seniors have built up a lifetime of savings, they continue to be the targets of individuals recommending investments that are fraudulent or unsuitable for their financial needs.

While prison will not help our victims who have lost their life savings, I hope the results in this case serve as a strong deterrent to other con men contemplating a life of crime.

I urge investors 55 and older to carefully research the credentials of anyone claiming to be a "senior specialist." I also urge all investors to visit the Arizona Corporation Commission's website at www.azinvestor.gov, which has an excellent guide for investors. Verify before you buy, ask the right questions and reduce the possibility of falling victim to scam artists.

Sheila Polk is the county attorney of Yavapai County.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009
Article comment by: Working Gal

To: Let's be Real, Bernard and Rude Hayworth - Collectively, your comments are the reason why many people have less and less compassion for the families of the Hilands and Cottrells. To imply that all of this is somehow the fault of the elderly victims who have been defrauded is a miscarriage of decency. I am amazed at the sociopathic lack of conscience in your statements. The opinion by County Attorney Polk is a straight forward and concise recap of the case. For you to claim that the defendants were not allowed to have their say is ridiculous. If accusing us of hostile small town thinking is the worst you can come up with, and to advise us to get a life.. So be it. Like Mr. Pike, I am going to sleep well tonight.

Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Article comment by: Let's Be Real

This newspaper is so biased and one sided it is truly pathetic. Never once did we hear the story from the defendants side. Yet, you all are more than happy to base your hostile opinions on the face value of the articles included in it. Small town thinking, small town opinions...get a life.

Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Article comment by: Bernard

It's a good thing all of you who "won't lose a wink of sleep" over this tragic situation are perfect. If this type of sad outcome for Travis and Tyson Hiland's innocent families doesn't move you then, honestly, what will? The victims in this case will most likely be dead and gone before either of the Hiland prisoners have the opportunity to even begin to pay restitution. Of course this is what the family/children of the elderly victims want so they can be the beneficiaries of the restitution long after their parents have been dead and gone. Typical.

Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Article comment by: Rudie Hayworth

Mr. Pike you are one cold hearted person. On top of your callousness you yourself are wrong. This case was not about any past acts which any of the defendants in this case were involved in previously and the fact that you bring that to the attention of people who care to read through your toxic, unintelligent, inaccurate ramblings about the case is just obnoxious chatter on your part. This case was supposed to be strictly about the criminal behavior of the defendants regarding THIS case and this case only. You need to get your facts straight. Educate yourself before you open your mouth and stop wasting the time of those of us who actually have a conscience.

Posted: Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Article comment by: Jerry

Mr. Pike, your comments eloquently say what many of us feel. Thanks to you and all the other people who spoke up on the behalf of people taken advantage of. My parents are grateful to you all.

Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Article comment by: Pike's

Mr Vern Piso - Your math and reasoning are faulty. The $1.65 million that the Hiland/Cotrell bunch were prosecuted for does not include the dollar amounts of other past dealings that they were involved in that could just as easily been criminally charged. It's a matter of record that these men had a less than reputable history in their business dealings. It was a matter of time until the law caught up with old Joe Hiland. It's been interesting to observe how these four men have turned on one another as their prospects for going free deteriorated. Their doomed defense changed as the noose grew tighter and tighter around them. Once convicted, the cookie cutter mill of bogus spin and oily PR on their behalf has begun. I know this will not change your opinion of them. I know better. I realize you and the small but very loud gang of other like-minded Hiland supporters will continue to whine and protest innocence long after I have posted this and moved on to more important concerns. I am not going to lose any sleep knowing that white collar crooks are going to jail. Justice is not perfect, but with time the shrill wailing of the guilty will fade, and life will go on. I will not forget the elderly victims that the Hiland/Cottrell supporters have momentarily eclipsed.

Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Article comment by: Vern Piso

This adds up to about $140,000 per year per defendant. I'm sorry to say this group did a poor job if they were "trying" to defraud. I know the Hilands, and they are good people that made some stupid mistakes. Fraud was not their intention. What was their defense? I just heard about this and do not live in AZ. This saddens me.

Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009
Article comment by: Alan Spross

I have often wondered why the penalties for massive white collar crime are so inadequate. Perhaps there is a clue in this article in that law enforcement considers these cases to be too complex and expensive to pursue. There is no real deterrent in today's penalties, so crooks like Madoff and the Hilands will continue to prey on the public at large.

Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009
Article comment by: No name provided

Every investment counselor in the country should get the same sentences. The only difference with this group ... was timing.

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