A River Forest insurance broker was sentenced to 7½ years in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to defrauding more than 200 carnival vendors across the country out of millions dollars in insurance premiums over the past several years.

Richard Brooks, 52, pled guilty to nine counts of theft over $100,000, all Class 1 felonies, and a single count of mail fraud, a Class X felony. Those nine cases alone account for $2.9 million in fraud. In all, 203 businesses were defrauded.

Brooks is being held in Cook County Jail awaiting transport to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

According to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which investigated the case along with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Brooks sold commercial general liability insurance supposedly underwritten by Lloyd’s of London to operators of carnival attractions, circuses and various extreme sports operations. He also sold automobile liability insurance purportedly from Fire and Casualty Insurance Company of Connecticut. Brooks was in fact not authorized to sell policies from either company, and had not been licensed to sell insurance in Illinois since 1997. He never obtained the insurance coverage he supposedly arranged for his clients.

Brooks operated out of his spacious two-story brick home at 1338 Park Ave. Besides carnival and circus operators, Brooks sold bogus policies to clients operating everything from bungee cord jumping, artificial rock climbing walls and mechanical bulls to a mime act in San Francisco.

Many of those to whom Brooks sold bogus coverage never had to file claims on their supposed policies, and therefore suffered no financial losses. Others, however, found out their insurance coverage was nonexistent only after filing claims.

Brook’s illegal activity was first discovered after a petting zoo in Florida filed a claim in May 2005. Officials there contacted Lloyd’s of London, who said they’d never heard of Brooks. Officials in Illinois were notified, and in June 2005 the Illinois Attorney General’s Office executed a search warrant at Brook’s home.

Around that time, routine site inspections by officials in Nebraska and Kentucky, which include asking for proof of insurance coverage, determined that insurance certificates issued by Brooks were fakes. In July 2005 the Nebraska Department of Insurance issued a cease and desist order on Brooks banning him from conducting insurance business in the state. Richard Brooks & Associates was involuntarily dissolved as an Illinois corporation in April 2006.

For a complete report, read the Jan. 10 issue of Wednesday Journal.

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