Broward Staged Accident Results in Five PIP Fraud Arrests

Five individuals were recently arrested for their involvement in an alleged staged accident that took place in Broward in July 2012, according to an announcement by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

The five, who were arrested on grand theft and insurance fraud charges, carried out the alleged scam which resulted in fraudulent Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims costing almost $40,000. Officials say a sixth individual is associated with the crime as well but has yet to be apprehended.

Investigators with the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) said that the five participated in the alleged crash as vehicle passengers. Shortly after the accident, they sought medical treatment at several South Florida clinics for bogus injuries. GEICO, Ocean Harbor and Gainsco insurance companies received fraudulent PIP claims as a result of the scam.

Those arrested include: Alfredo Romero, 66, of Hollywood; Alice Martinez, 27, of Pembroke Pines; and Jose Rodas, 33, Whitney Lopez, 25, and Mirna Madrid, 37, all of Fort Lauderdale. Alfredo Romero was also arrested in July 2014 for his role in another Broward County staged accident.

The cases will be prosecuted by the Broward State Attorney’s Office.

Mario Ruiz, 32, of Fort Lauderdale is the sixth individual currently wanted in connection with this crime. Anyone with information regarding his whereabouts is asked to contact DIF at 1-800-378-0445 or the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Citizens may remain anonymous.

The Department of Financial Services to date has awarded almost $349,000 to nearly 60 citizens as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program. The program rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2008), Insurance Fraud

Miami D & J Rehabilitation Center Target of Another DIF Fraud Arrest

Yalily Clavero Ruiz is the latest to be arrested by the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) in connection with deceptive activities at D & J Rehabilitation Center, a Miami clinic that was incorporated in 2009. According to DIF, the 34-year old manager is charged with insurance fraud, grand theft and organized scheme to defraud.

Clavero Ruiz allegedly instructed patients, many of whom were staged accident participants, to sign for treatment that was not provided to them. In one instance, video surveillance conducted on behalf of State Farm showed that Clavero Ruiz paid $1,000 to a patient, who did not receive any treatment, to sign off as if treatment was provided.

DIF has made numerous arrests this year tied to staged accidents and participants who were referred to D & J Rehabilitation.

In October, our FL PIP Guide reported on two recently arrested in the scheme—Victor Manuel Hernandez and Vladimir Caro—whose involvement caused hundreds-of-thousands in fraudulent billings to be submitted to insurance companies.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Owner of ‘Exclusive Health Systems’ Clinic Arrested on Insurance Fraud Charges

Marlene Lopez del Castillo was arrested in October in connection with an illegal insurance scheme, according to the Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF). She allegedly pretended to be the doctor at Exclusive Health Systems, a Miami clinic she owned. Lopez del Castillo, 44, was charged with insurance fraud, grand theft, and practicing medicine without a license.

According to DIF, two people who participated in a staged vehicle accident in October 2011 visited Exclusive Health Systems for initial evaluations. Lopez del Castillo allegedly behaved as if she were the physician on call and examined both patients during their clinic visits, even though she is not a medical doctor nor does she hold a license with the Department of Health.

Lopez del Castillo also allegedly fabricated follow-up examinations that were later signed off by Dr. Hugo Goldstraj. Dr. Goldstraj gave a statement to investigators indicating that Lopez del Castillo prepared the reports. He said that he did not actually examine the patients nor do the paperwork.

Dr. Goldstraj was arrested in 2013 by DIF in a separate investigation, dubbed ‘Operation No Med Service,’ that involved a massive false billing scheme. Dr. Goldstraj was convicted in May and has since surrendered his license.

Lopez del Castillo opened Exclusive Health Systems in 2000.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

State Farm Survey Finds Drivers Admit to Cell Phone Use Behind-the-Wheel

Although most drivers support laws that prohibit cell phone use while driving, they don’t necessarily practice what they preach. That’s what State Farm Insurance Company found when they surveyed drivers about their cell phone habits behind the wheel.

According to the Sixth Annual State Farm Distracted Driving Survey—which dug deeper into consumers’ cell phone usage in vehicles—situations arose where drivers were “more likely” and “less likely” to use their cell phones. Among respondents who admitted to using their cell phones while driving, State Farm found:

Drivers are more likely to use their cell phone when they are:

  • Stopped at a red light – 63 percent
  • On an open highway – 30 percent

Drivers are less likely to use their cell phone under these conditions:

  • Dark outside – 75 percent
  • Fog – 91 percent
  • Snow – 92 percent
  • Icy – 93 percent
  • Heavy traffic – 78 percent
  • Construction zone – 87 percent
  • Rain – 88 percent
  • School zone – 83 percent

Even though most drivers say they avoid using their cell phones while in school and construction zones, the survey found that at least 10 percent reported those zones have no impact on their cell phone use while driving.

In the six years that State Farm has been conducting these surveys, trends have emerged:

  • There has been a steady reduction in the number of drivers talking on hand-held cell phones.
  • The number of people who report texting while driving has remained stable over six years.
  • Smartphone ownership is growing. By 2014, drivers who reported owning a smartphone grew to 80 percent. The greatest increases are among adults age 40 and older.
  • Smartphones create new distractions. There is a significant increase over six years in drivers using their phones for: accessing the Internet, reading email, responding to email, programming and listening to a navigation system and reading social media.
  • Drivers are more likely to talk on a hand-held phone than they are to text message while driving. Both activities are the greatest among drivers ages 18-29. They decreased as the age of drivers increased.
  • There has been an increase in the percentage of drivers who say they talk on hands-free cell phones while driving. This can possibly be attributed to advances in technology and laws restricting hand-held use.

“These six-year trends make it apparent that smartphones have created many new distractions for drivers to juggle,” Chris Mullen, Director of Technology Research at State Farm said. “While much attention is paid to the dangers of talking and texting while driving, it’s critical that we also address the increasing use of other smartphone features and other sources of distraction.”

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Filed under Uncategorized

PIP Fraudster/Alligator Whisperer Remains Free but Cannot Cavort with Gators

On our FL PIP Guide on November 10, we told you about how federal prosecutors were trying to get the bond revoked of a Miami Beach PIP scammer who touted himself as an ‘alligator whisperer’-for-hire while waiting to start his jail term. The former chiropractor, 51-year old Hal Mark Kreitman, would swim and frolic with the reptiles and was even photographed kissing them.

However, according to an update in the Sun-Sentinel, prosecutors were overruled as U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra declared that Kreitman can remain free until January 5, but only if he abides by new conditions set forth by the judge.

The former chiropractor-turned-alligator-whisperer was originally convicted of fraud in October in a staged accident ring case. The scheme revolved around Personal Injury Protection (PIP) payments that were used to defraud insurance companies through mail fraud and money laundering. Kreitman was sentenced to eight years and ordered to pay more than $1.63 million in restitution.

In a strange turn of events, Kreitman was then arrested on October 29 in the Everglades in Monroe County on state charges that he was harassing alligators. Federal prosecutors wanted to use these new charges against him—to have his bond revoked and to move up his surrender date.

While Judge Marra did not revoke bond, he agreed that the evidence showed that Kreitman committed a federal misdemeanor by touching the alligators. Judge Marra set new rules for Kreitman’s release designed to prevent him from posing a danger to the public and the gators.

Kreitman “shall not harass, harm, pursue, hunt, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, feed, touch, tease, or frighten any wildlife,” the judge wrote in his order.

Prosecutors said Kreitman has also been driving on a suspended license, but according to his attorney, evidence presented showed the license was incorrectly suspended due to a case of stolen identity by Kreitman’s brother.

The judge ordered that Kreitman cannot drive until his license is reinstated; in addition, he could still face state wildlife charges in Monroe County, the Sun-Sentinel article said.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Panhandle Auto Body Shop Owners Charged with Insurance Fraud

The Wreck-O-Mended auto body shop in Quincy, Fla. was the setting for an insurance fraud scam, according to a report by WTXL TV. Quincy is a small town of approximately 7,000 residents located northwest of Tallahassee in the Panhandle.

Owner Russell D. Owens and his wife Cassandra Owens received almost $2,000 in payment from Progressive Insurance Company for the replacement of a bumper, trunk lid and side panel on an insured’s damaged vehicle. The work was allegedly not done properly, and yet the body shop owners kept the insurance money. The insured must now pursue legal action against the shop in order to collect any money owed to complete the repairs, according to the report.

Russell Owens is accused of overcharging for repairs, a felony, and grand auto theft. Cassandra Owens is charged with criminal conspiracy for her role in the scam. Both parties were arrested this week by the Florida Department of Insurance Fraud.

Click on the link to read the full report.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Feds Hoping Latest Charges Against PIP Fraudster Turned ‘Alligator Whisperer’ Have Teeth

Hal Mark Kreitman’s role as the ‘Alligator Whisperer’ may land him in even hotter water if federal prosecutors have their way. Authorities were hoping the latest charges against the 51-year old, allegedly for alligator endangerment, were enough to revoke his bond on recent PIP fraud convictions and send him directly to jail.

The former Miami chiropractor was sentenced just a few weeks ago, as we reported on our FL-PIP Guide on October 15, for his role in a larger staged automobile accident fraud ring that involved Personal Injury Protection (PIP) payments to defraud insurance companies through mail fraud and money laundering. Kreitman was sentenced to eight years, ordered to pay more than $1.63 million in restitution, and scheduled to start his prison term on January 5.

According to an article in the Sun Sentinel, Kreitman was hardly out on bond before he was arrested in the Everglades by officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He was accused of allegedly enticing alligators to offer customers the “Alligator Experience”—face-to-face encounters with the reptiles—if they were willing to pay $250.

Authorities say Kreitman’s interactions with the alligators violate state and federal laws. As a result, the alligators involved may have to be killed because they’ve lost their natural fear of humans, making them dangerous.

After prosecutors argued that Kreitman violated the terms of his release, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra decided to delay his ruling, giving him the chance to carefully re-read all relevant laws. For now, the “Alligator Whisperer” remains free.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud