We Went to a Steak Dinner Annuity Pitch. The Salesman Wasn’t Pleased.

By Ron Lieber

LOS ANGELES — The pitch arrived in my aunt’s mailbox, just after her 80th birthday and in the wake of a few frightening weeks for retirement investors.
“Tired of the stock market roller coaster ride? Want to protect your principal and lock in interest earnings?” the invitation read.

It offered the opportunity to hear all about it at a “complimentary gourmet meal,” featuring “New York steak.” Even better, it would be at a restaurant in Granada Hills that her mother, Vi, had loved.

The mailer was addressed to another member of the family who no longer lives there, but my aunt had no problem registering when she called the number on the card. It said a guest was welcome, too. I volunteered, and she registered me as well.

And the host? An insurance salesman, Arif M. Halaby, who I quickly discovered had been the subject of a state cease-and-refrain order earlier in the decade because of certain financial products that an administrative law judge determined that he had sold. The state found that Mr. Halaby was offering “unqualified” securities after an ailing older client pulled equity from his home to invest in a real estate development in Costa Rica.

I had long wanted to attend one of these steak dinners, and if you are in or near retirement, or sort the mail of people who are, you might be curious about them as well. Such dinners have been a cause for concern.

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