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A Houston lawyer who once allegedly avoided paying a more than $20,000 credit card debt after a phony obituary reported he had died pleaded guilty to two charges of insurance fraud on Feb. 5 and faces spending his retirement years behind bars. Harry Key Noe II, 74, pleaded guilty to falsely claiming he was disabled and lying about his date of birth to collect more than $300,000 from Massachusetts Life Insurance Co. since 1992. The offense is a first-degree felony. Noe, a former Houston police officer, also pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony of attempting to collect about $70,000 from Progressive Insurance Co. after falsely claiming that his recreational vehicle had been stolen on March 18, 1999, from a Wal-Mart parking lot in Harlingen, Texas. A Progressive representative could not be reached for comment. The Office of the Attorney General, which investigated the vehicle insurance fraud case, reports that Noe temporarily abandoned the RV at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino and Hotel in Bossier City, La. The RV was recovered from the casino’s parking lot on June 3, 1999, the OAG reports. The OAG alleges that someone claiming to be a Binion’s Horseshoe Casino official in Las Vegas had called a Bossier City casino official and asked him to safeguard the vehicle, which the caller said belonged to the owner’s friend. Shortly before Progressive Insurance recovered the RV, someone claiming to be Oscar Goodman, the owner’s lawyer and the mayor of Las Vegas, called and told the casino official not to talk to insurance investigators about the vehicle, as alleged in the OAG’s synopsis of the case. “Whatever little influence the name has, you can’t blame people for trying to use it,” Goodman says. The OAG reports that John Peralta and Brian Johnson, assistant attorneys general involved in investigating Noe, received suspicious telephone calls that attempted to derail the investigation. In one of the calls, which the OAG alleges was traced to Noe, the caller pretended to be a vice president of Progressive Insurance. A request made to the OAG to interview Peralta, who spearheaded the office’s investigation, was denied. Neither Noe nor his lawyer, Mike Maness of Houston, returned repeated phone calls seeking comment. TO TELL THE TRUTH Noe’s recent brush with the law apparently is not the first time the lawyer has had difficulty telling the truth. “His whole life is a lie, in my opinion,” says Harris County Assistant District Attorney Maria McAnulty, who brought the disability fraud case against Noe. McAnulty says the lawyer also goes by Harry Frances Noe, which is the name the OAG says is shown on his Texas driver’s license, and has used different dates of birth. “He also has used more than one Social Security number,” she alleges. One of the conditions of the plea agreement was that Noe had to state in court his real name and date of birth, McAnulty says. McAnulty alleges that Noe claimed to have been born in 1938 when he filed the disability claim in 1992. He falsified his date of birth, she alleges, because an individual is not eligible for disability benefits after turning 65. Noe allegedly filed the claim of disability for triple bypass surgery, claiming that he had been unable to work or earn income because he had not recovered from the operation. “While he’s collecting disability, he’s out there practicing law,” McAnulty says. Under the agreement, Noe agreed to a five-year prison term and must pay $309,000 to Massachusetts Mutual. Judge Belinda Hill of the 230th District Court scheduled a sentencing hearing for March 23 and ordered Noe to surrender his passport as a condition of remaining free on bond until he is sentenced. As alleged by the OAG, the investigation of Noe revealed that he had a bogus obituary published Nov. 6, 1992, in the now-defunct Houston Post. The obituary stated that Noe died on Nov. 1, 1992, in London, “after losing a valiant struggle with cancer.” The report of Noe’s death was greatly exaggerated. “He’s dead, but he’s still with us,” says McAnulty. The OAG’s investigation found that, based on the false obituary, a major credit card issuer wrote off more than $20,000 of Noe’s debt in 1994, with the notation that the accounts were closed because the customer had died. Documents obtained from CitiBank, which issued the credit cards, indicate the closing of the accounts was based on the obituary in the Houston Post, the OAG reports. McAnulty says that Noe was put on probation for fraudulent behavior twice in the past. In 1976, Noe received a six-month probated sentence and was fined $400 for misdemeanor forgery in Harris County, McAnulty says. The OAG reports that he pleaded no contest to a charge that he forged discount airline tickets. Noe received four years’ probation in 1982 for attempting to collect on a false aircraft theft claim, McAnulty says. The State Bar of Texas handed Noe a one-year, fully probated suspension in July 1982 based on the false claim regarding the plane theft. A spokesman in the State Bar’s membership department says Noe has an active membership. Membership records of the Houston Bar Association show that Noe claims to have graduated from South Texas College of Law in Houston and Pepperdine School of Law in California. The records indicate he graduated from both schools in 1957. An employee in the registrar’s office at South Texas College of Law confirms that Noe is a graduate of that institution. The alumni office at Pepperdine found no record that Noe attended law school there, a spokeswoman says.

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