Tag Archives: PIP fraud

Staged Accident Recruiter from Palm Beach County Sentenced to Nine Years

A West Palm Beach man, who participated in an $8 million insurance fraud scam, was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the matter.

Joel Antonio Simon Ramirez, about whom we reported on our FL PIP Guide in April, helped recruit individuals to participate in staged automobile crashes. According to a story in the Palm Beach Post, the 30-year old worked together with three other chiropractors who filed fake insurance claims for the participants in these crashes. They operated the scheme out of clinics throughout Palm Beach County.

Following a six-week trial in April, all four defendants were found guilty of money laundering and mail fraud. Ramirez was also found guilty of helping stage the auto accidents.

By violating PIP insurance provisions, these schemes not only cost insurers but also hurt Florida drivers, federal prosecutors said. The conspiracy was part of a larger staged accident ring dubbed “Operation Sledgehammer” by investigators who discovered that many participants damaged vehicles using sledgehammers to give the appearance of a crash.

Nearly 60 people have been charged in federal court and almost 40 have been charged in state court as part of this sweeping investigation. Most have pleaded guilty to participating in staged accidents and then seeking treatment for bogus injuries. According to prosecutors, the five ringleaders fled to Cuba.

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

Will Florida’s Reported Drop in PIP Fraud Continue?

Florida, one of 12 states with no-fault auto insurance, has reported its fair share of insurance fraud, mostly through scams involving Personal Injury Protection. PIP insurance provides personal injury protection up to $10,000 in immediate medical coverage without having to establish fault in the court system.

As industry insiders know, this monetary level is often seen as an easy target by fraudsters. Even though PIP premiums have represented only about 2 percent of all of Florida’s collected insurance premiums, they account for nearly half of all auto insurance fraud referrals, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (FOIR) has established.

But all of that may be changing, the National Insurance Crime Bureau believes, as auto insurance fraud has actually dropped in Florida since a 2012 law reformed PIP. As we posted on our FL PIP Guide this past March, tighter legislation, enhanced public awareness, and coordinated law enforcement efforts appear to be having a positive effect on PIP fraud in Florida.

These changes specifically include stronger penalties for medical providers who commit PIP fraud, a 14-day window for accident victims to seek medical treatment, and reduced benefits and treatments.

In line with projections made when HB119 was passed, FOIR expects PIP coverage rates to decrease by an average of 13.2 percent, reducing auto insurance rates 1.2 percent overall, according to figures based on a review of data from 20 insurers that provide auto insurance to more than 75 percent of the Florida market.

However, because PIP coverage savings will still be relatively small in comparison to the overall total cost of a typical auto insurance policy, and because fraud is at times difficult to detect, the next few years may be a better indication of whether these changes have produced a statistical blip in the numbers or a longer-term trend.

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Filed under Fla. Stat. 627.736 (2012), Insurance Fraud

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

Five Arrested, Two Wanted in Organized South Florida PIP Fraud Scheme

Attorneys, chiropractors and clinic employees in Martin, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties were swept up this morning in the culmination of a year-long undercover investigation led by the Florida Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud.

Two Boca Raton attorneys are among the five individuals arrested today:

• Brian Greenspoon (attorney), Boca Raton
• Cory Meltzer (attorney), Boca Raton
• Roger Hughes Bell (chiropractor), Hobe Sound
• Alejandro Marin, Homestead
• Douglas Santiago, Boynton Beach

Lake Worth chiropractor Ray Grand and Stuart resident Christina Savoye have warrants out for their arrest.

A brokering agreement among participants governed the payment of fees to a patient broker who recruited patients illegally for treatment at unnamed South Florida medical clinics. Unbeknownst to the crime ring organizers, the broker was in reality an undercover agent. Other law enforcement personnel, also working under cover, infiltrated the clinics involved to document the allegedly criminal activities.

Principals in the fraud scheme acknowledged on several occasions that it was illegal to pay for patients, so all referrals were paid under the guise of marketing services, according to a press release issued by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Apparently, insurance carriers and others were billed by participating clinics for medical and chiropractic services that were not rendered. Patients were also being taught how to fake injuries, according to the release.

While exact dollar amounts are not available, the crime ring is believed to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent billings.

The defendants will be prosecuted by the 15th and 19th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s offices, according to the release.

Click on the link to read the full news release.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

South Florida Chiropractor Tied to 2013 PIP Fraud Investigation Surrenders License

On our FL-PIP Guide in September 2013, we reported that chiropractor David Hirschenson was arrested and charged with 19 counts of obtaining illegal crash reports and one count of solicitation.

An update in the case is now being reported. According to the Florida Department of Insurance Fraud (DIF), the 56-year old chiropractor was sentenced in a Miami-Dade County Court this September as a result of the charges made against him a year ago. He received five years probation and also surrendered his chiropractor’s license to the Department of Health.

Details in the case revealed that Hirschenson actually worked with two others in the scheme. The first was a runner who solicited accident victims. In an interesting development in that case, the victims were not referred to Hirschenson’s clinic, but instead to another clinic in North Miami Beach—Advanced Chiropractic and Medical Center.

The second co-conspirator was a local radio station staffer who used the media exception status at the station to request accident reports from a variety of police departments. Hirschenson then used this information illegally to solicit accident victims. DIF arrested both co-conspirators, who cooperated in the investigation against Hirschenson.

Hirschenson, who originally received his chiropractor license in Florida in 1982, also had a prior arrest in the late 1980s as part of an investigation involving solicitation and insurance fraud in Broward County. He was placed on probation for two years by the Board of Chiropractic, but retained his state license for cooperating with the State Attorney’s Office. Hirschenson worked at and operated several clinics, including Pines Total Health Center in Pembroke Pines and Body and Mind Wellness Center in Coral Gables.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud