So long, Joe: Selman dies in a prison hospital

Joe Selman died a lonely death last month, a long way from home and in pain– not just from the melanoma that killed him, but also because of his surroundings: He died in a federal prison hospital in Minnesota, more than halfway through a 41-month sentence, because his application for compassionate release had been denied.

In the spring of 2000 Joe and his wife, Jeannie, were convicted in federal court of embezzlement, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and making false reports. Local victims included Crutchfield Corporation ($446,885), the UVA Alumni Association ($322,711), and Crestar Bank ($220,000). The biggest losers in other areas were the Isle of Wight County employees ($451,288), Sheet Metal Workers Local 100 of Richmond ($377,865), and Metropolitan Life ($200,000).

The Selmans, operating as Duke Benefits, administered employee benefits; mainly, they processed medical insurance claims. This business entailed collecting premiums from employers, reimbursing doctors and dentists for covered charges, and billing employees for any amounts not covered.

Almost as soon as Joe started doing business as Duke– or, in the opinion of many close to the case, as soon as Jeannie joined him– money meant for insurers went to Duke's coffers instead.

Duke operated for only two years, from January 1995 to January 1997, but during that time the couple cut such a wide swath that they were soon under investigation by the Department of Labor, the Postal Service, the State Police, and the State Corporation Commission.

Duke's demise coincided with the Selmans' bankruptcy filing, in which they listed more than 400 creditors and three pages of suits that had been brought against them. In November 1998 they were indicted by a federal grand jury, Joe on 18 counts and Jeannie on 15.

I began writing about Jeannie and Joe in December 1996, when employees at the Journal of Neurosurgery (which was one of 15 UVA foundations and employee groups covered under a contract between the Alumni Association and Duke Benefits) showed me the paper trail they had assembled during their dealings with Duke.

One item was a letter from Joe that began, "I am in receipt of your accusatory, slanderous, and defaming letter" and ended, 1,243 words later, "Peace and goodwill towards you and best personal regards."

That was Joe. The money he and Jeannie embezzled was spent on chartered jets, Mercedes-Benzes, and a special storage room in their house for Jeannie's furs. Meanwhile, their clients were left to cover medical bills, some of which were devastating. At the couple's sentencing, an Isle of Wight employee addressed Joe and described the ordeal she and her co-workers had undergone.

"Your lack of conscience, your endless greed, your unethical business practices, and your pompous behavior throughout... make today's sentencing all the sweeter. You will never meet the good, honest, hardworking people... you preyed upon, some of whom were fighting the worst battles of their lives." Another man might have managed to look remorseful during the woman's statement; Joe looked bored.

Earlier this month, I drove out to the cemetery at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Ivy, where, in the obituary Joe wrote for himself, he had supposedly been buried after his October 19 memorial service. I found a headstone that was engraved with both Jeannie and Joe's names, but could see no sign that the earth had been disturbed. Puzzled, I approached a man talking to a couple outside the church and asked if he knew where Joe was buried.

Well, he said, he wasn't buried anywhere– at least, not yet. Although Joe had been specific about his wishes, even asking that he be buried in his glasses, the day before the memorial service Jeannie had called the funeral home from Colorado Springs– where, freed from prison, she now lives– and instructed them to cremate Joe instead.

The man I spoke with, who asked that I not use his name, doesn't know whether Joe's ashes will ever come to rest in Ivy; if they do, they won't be interred beneath the double headstone. Instead, they'll be buried next to his mother's grave, in a rectangle of earth marked out by four little American flags.

Even in death, Joe Selman can't find peace. Let's hope his victims can.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.