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Florida Arrests 17 in Staged Auto Crashes

Source: AP

Posted on 04 Mar 2011

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In a series of scams to defraud insurance companies by claiming nonexistent medical services for faked auto crashes, authorities in Florida announced charges Wednesday against 25 people, including doctors and medical clinic operators.

The undercover investigation into five clinics, spearheaded by the state Division of Insurance Fraud, covered several months and involved numerous audio and video recordings, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said at a news conference.

"The fraud schemers bill insurance companies for procedures that never happen, and we all get stuck with the bill through increased auto insurance premiums," Atwater said, estimating the cost of fraud for Floridians at nearly $1 billion a year in higher premiums.

Seventeen people had been arrested as of Wednesday afternoon and eight more were being sought. Among the 142 combined charges brought against them: grand theft, organized scheme to defraud, false insurance claims and patient brokering. The charges translate into more than 1,100 years in total potential prison time.

"Lies upon lies led to dollars upon dollars upon dollars for all the parties charged today," Fernandez Rundle said. "This is far from the end of our efforts to fight such frauds."

According to an affidavit by fraud division detective Oscar Sigler, the scams involved Miami-area medical practices that had accident organizers who would set up exactly where and how the crash would be staged. Therapists were involved who provided no therapy as well as doctors that did little more than make sure insurance forms were signed so companies could be billed for services never rendered.

The "patients" were coached on what to say if an insurance company started asking questions about their treatment, Sigler said in the affidavit.

One clinic manager, identified as Roberto Camacho, allegedly told a cooperating witness identified as "Triana" that he would be paid for bringing more people into the scheme to participate in accidents. Camacho also told the witness that he has a "henchman" who finds people who stop going to the clinic and forces them to return.

"You think I have what I have because I'm stupid?" Camacho told the witness, according to the affidavit.

It wasn't immediately clear from court records whether Camacho had an attorney.

Insurance companies involved in these cases include Geico, State Farm, Mercury and Imperial Fire & Casualty. Authorities said company investigators also assisted in the probe.