by Brent Kearney -

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- A Pensacola man was sentenced to 14 years in prison after being found guilty of wire fraud and money laundering.

52-year-old John Thomas was convicted of selling fraudulent insurance policies.

WEAR News obtained a copy of the indictment against Thomas.

It states he defrauded 15 customers out of nearly $5 million.

As part of his sentence, he's also ordered to pay over $8 million in restitution.

Thomas ran an insurance business from 2013 to 2021.

The U.S. Attorney's Office says Thomas used a method of fraud known as premium diversion.

Thomas would collect the money for personal use and cover his tracks by giving victims fake documents referencing policies that didn't exist.

Some of those victims didn't find out they were duped until after Hurricane Sally.

Mary Jordan owns Gulf Coast Insurance.

She says similar cases of insurance fraud are not common in this area, but there are red flags you can look for to keep from being a victim.

"If the agent doesn't return your phone call then that would be a problem," Jordan said. "Call the carrier directly and ask about your policy. If their is no policy then that should raise a red flag for you."

She also said look over the documents your agent gives you.

Jordan says some of Thomas' victims called her office to try and fix their insurance.

If the paperwork doesn't have a specific carrier logo or specific carrier information that's a red flag. Also, make sure the paperwork has the carrier's direct phone numbers.

If you feel you've been a victim of insurance fraud, call the Florida Department of Insurance directly at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).