Tag Archives: Staged accidents

Chiropractor & Receptionist Connected to Operation Sledgehammer Get Prison Sentences

Convicted for their role in a massive insurance fraud ring involving staged accidents in South Florida, two more people were sentenced in Operation Sledgehammer last week.

Chiropractor Lawrence Schechtman from Parkland, whom we reported about on our FL-PIP Guide on December 19 when he pleaded guilty to mail fraud conspiracy and mail fraud, was sentenced to four years and four months in federal prison. In addition to his sentence, he was ordered by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra to pay more than $2.4 million in restitution.

According to federal prosecutors, Schechtman worked at clinics in Palm Springs and Miami, where he signed off on treatments for people who fraudulently claimed they were accident victims as part of the staged-accident ring which operated in several counties.

According to a story in the August 8 Sun-Sentinel, the 45-year old Schechtman, who suffers from heart and back problems, was granted a request to serve his confinement at the Federal Medical Center, a medical prison in North Carolina. Judge Marra gave the chiropractor two months to turn himself in and begin serving his term.

Another co-conspirator from Palm Springs was sentenced for her role in Operation Sledgehammer. Sircy Sacerio, also known as Sisi or Sircy Santos, received four years in federal prison by Judge Marra.

Under the terms of her sentence, the Palm Beach Post reported, the 31-year old reception and office assistant must also repay $1,146,824.26 and will have two years of supervised release following her time in prison.

She originally pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and five counts of mail fraud.

Part of the fraud activity in Operation Sledgehammer, which was recorded by investigators, included co-conspirators damaging vehicles with sledgehammers to give the appearance of a crash. The participants in the staged accidents would then go to clinics involved in the ring to receive bogus treatment which, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, brought in millions of dollar to chiropractors on false and fraudulent insurance claims. The scheme began around October 2006 and continued through December 2012.

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

Jacksonville Couple Sentenced in “Family & Friends” PIP Insurance Fraud Ring

A married couple convicted of staging car crashes with family members—as we first reported on our FL-PIP Guide on June 23—was recently sentenced for their involvement in an extensive insurance fraud ring in Duval County.

According to a news release issued by the State Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Jose Alberto Velez, 30, received 74 months in prison for three counts of knowingly participating in an intentional motor vehicle crash and five counts of false insurance claims. His wife, April Rosita Wynn, 23, was sentenced to 48 months in prison for two counts of knowingly participating in an intentional motor vehicle crash and four counts of false insurance claims.

A 2012 investigation by the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) and the Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) found that Velez and Wynn, who are now married, had been recruiting family members and friends to participate in staged car crashes with them. They would then file Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims through designated rehabilitation clinics, which provided bogus treatment for the participants’ fictional injuries.

Over the past year-and-a-half, almost 100 individuals have been arrested for their involvement in this insurance fraud scheme. Many have already been sentenced, including one of the ringleaders, David Rodriguez Lopez. He received 15 years in prison on charges of schemes to defraud over $50,000, false insurance claims over $100,000, and knowingly participating in an intentional motor vehicle crash.

Other cases are currently pending.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Fraudulent PIP Billings of $80K Lead to Fort Lauderdale Arrests

Three Fort Lauderdale residents—Claudio Boyett, Leslie Sanchez Martinez and Claudia Hoy—were arrested for participating in a staged accident that resulted in the submission of $80,000 in fraudulent PIP claims, according to Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

The three participants allegedly staged an accident involving a U-Haul truck, which hit a parked Dodge Caravan carrying eight occupants. Fraudulent claims were then filed with multiple clinics across South Florida. More arrests are expected in the case.

In other PIP fraud news across the state, David Torres was convicted for his work as a recruiter on behalf of the Indian Rehabilitation Center in Jacksonville. He was charged with eight counts involving a staged accident. Torres was ordered to repay $109,000 in restitution to eight insurance companies, and will serve five years in jail.

“PIP fraud schemes drive up auto insurance rates for all Floridians, which is why we are working day and night to prevent it from happening in the future and hold the fraudsters who have broken the law accountable,” said CFO Atwater.

The Florida Department of Financial Services reports that it has made almost 2,000 PIP fraud arrests since early 2011. Convictions are up 17% for the current fiscal year, with a total of 1,225 to date.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

“Family & Friends” Staged Accident Ring Uncovered in Duval County

A couple faces 20 years in prison as a result of their participation in a PIP insurance fraud scheme which involved staging a car accident, and subsequently collecting money from the false insurance claims they filed.

Jose Alberto Velez, 30, and April Rosita Wynn, 23, were both convicted of knowingly participating in an intentional motor vehicle crash and four counts of false insurance claims, according to a news release issued by the Office of the State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit of Florida.

Their convictions stem from a staged car crash that happened in May 2012, the same year that the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) and the Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) began investigating a series of questionable car accidents in Duval County.

Their investigation uncovered a larger Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance fraud scheme where nearly 100 individuals have been arrested over the past 18 months.

It was discovered that Velez and Wynn, who are now married, persuaded family and friends to participate in their staged car crashes. After the accidents, Velez, Wynn and their accomplices would go to designated rehabilitation clinics that would provide mock therapy for fictional injuries, and then file PIP claims through those clinics.

One of the ringleaders of the scheme, David Rodriguez Lopez, was sentenced to 15 years on charges of schemes to defraud over $50,000, false insurance claims over $100,000, and knowingly participating in an intentional motor vehicle crash. Other cases resulting from the investigation are currently pending.

Besides their present charges, Velez and Wynn are still awaiting other charges for allegedly staging additional accidents. They will be sentenced the week of July 28.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Three Arrests Made in Connection to a Fort Lauderdale Staged Auto Crash

Three people in Fort Lauderdale have been arrested for their involvement in staging an auto accident in a church parking lot in order to collect $80,000 from an insurance company, a June 19 article in the Sun Sentinel said.

According to police records, Claudio Boyett, 44, Leslie Martinez, 45, and Claudia Hoy, 31, all of Fort Lauderdale, are accused of grand theft and insurance fraud. Boyett was arrested earlier this week while the other two were arrested last week.

A report from Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud showed a U-Haul truck struck a Dodge Caravan in the parking lot of the Pare De Sufrir Church on August 7, 2012. Martinez was driving the Caravan, which had Hoy and six others as passengers. Boyett struck the van with the U-Haul he was driving, the report said.

After the accident, Martinez, Hoy and Boyett allegedly went for medical treatment and filed a personal injury protection claim with United Auto Insurance worth $80,000, according to insurance company investigators.

Officials from the insurance company said investigators found that one witness was offered $1,500 for the use of her Caravan; another acknowledged the accident was staged.

These arrests have come as a result of Operation Sledgehammer, the effort between the FBI and state authorities which launched three years ago to crack down on insurance fraud from staged auto accidents.

According to the story, investigators have found almost $20 million in illegal payouts and have charged almost 100 people in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Also, $5 million in restitution has been ordered to be paid back to insurers by some of those convicted.

These types of efforts have been making an impact in Florida, according to a study by the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau. The organization has found fraudulent claims from staged crashes have actually been falling since Florida’s PIP reform has been enacted in the past two years, as our FL-PIP Blog reported in March.

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Filed under Insurance Fraud

Another Staged Accident Story Reminds Drivers to be Alert to Florida Auto Insurance Scams

Florida State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, helped pass legislation in 2012 aimed at reducing the tremendous number of staged accidents and injuries in the state, and deter claims made after accidents in which victims had not even been present.

Once estimated as a billion-dollar industry in Florida due to the ease of receiving PIP payouts from insurance companies, Boyd’s changes helped strengthen requirements for medical evidence and stipulated that police reports list everyone involved, including all of the passengers.

Credited with reducing personal injury insurance costs and premiums, Boyd feels that the updated law put a dent in a serious problem where opportunistic scam artists still turn dents and dings into major injuries.

One such example of heavy-duty suspicions stemming from a marginal accident was featured in a recent Tom Lyons’ column in the Herald-Tribune.

In Lyons’ piece, a Sarasota retiree was supposedly involved in an accident when backing out of an on-street parking spot. This driver felt the accident was so small that he wasn’t even sure it happened. However, the driver of the other car claimed that he caused the collision and filed a police report. The retiree was issued a ticket.

He later found out from his insurance company that the woman driving the other car filed an insurance report claiming she and her passenger suffered trauma and were feeling pain in their neck, legs and back. The retiree says, “his insurance company is about to take a hit, but he’s not at all sure it is a legitimate one.”

Some unscrupulous staged accident rings rely on each other to carry out these scenarios to receive insurance reimbursement, according to the article. Although some parties face charges in the end, it isn’t easy to know when someone is faking an injury. It is even harder, as demonstrated in the retiree’s case, to prove the circumstances surrounding the injury are bogus.

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

Insurance Scammers Target Unsuspecting Drivers in Staged Auto Accidents

It could happen to anyone. A stopped driver waves you on and then slams into your car, causing an accident that looks like it’s your fault and has produced injuries.

A recent story on News4Jax.com revealed how insurance scammers did just that to two victims, both of whom found themselves in the midst of staged accidents either when driving in traffic or pulling out of a parking spot.

One of those victims was one of 80 targeted by a group of schemers, according to postal inspectors.  Total losses in this case came to $130,000.

Drivers who are involved in an accident that seems like it may have been staged are advised to make careful records. Although inspectors say these aren’t easy scams to avoid, they recommend documenting details—both the accident victims and any vehicles at the scene—with photos and video if possible.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud provides different scenarios that scammers typically use to stage auto accidents. The organization’s site also provides steps innocent drivers can take to prepare themselves and fight back.

One suggestion is that a driver count how many passengers are in the other car, get their names, phone numbers and driver’s licenses. Accident victims are also advised to get the other car’s license number, and to take cell phone photos of the damage caused to both cars, as well as the passengers in the other car.

 

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Filed under Insurance Fraud