Airline crash for insurance cash?

By James Quiggle
December 1, 2001
You have to wonder what the grieving families of victims of the World Trade Center attacks thought when they saw the news stories about the arrest of Charles and Cynthia Gavett.

Charles had told Minnesota Life she perished in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11. He wanted to collect on the family's $200,000 mortgage insurance policy, which would help pay off the mortgage on their $270,000 home.

A cosmetics dealer, Cynthia was finishing an early-morning appointment in one of the towers when a hijacked airliner plowed it, Charles sadly told his insurance company. Cynthia was lost for good, and a nice bundle of insurance cash would be a consoling reminder of her time here on earth.

This was all very touching, since by all accounts the Gavetts were a respected family in their tiny southern Georgia town of Concord (pop 330).

Except for one small problem. Cynthia was still quite alive and living openly in Concord the whole time. Their insurance claim was a complete phony whose only purpose was to make a fast buck off one of America's greatest tragedies, police now charge.

Minnesota Mutual outed the alleged insurance scheme while routinely confirming Cynthia's death.

Apparently, Charles and Cynthia never thought Minnesota Life would actually check out the claim during a national tragedy. But that's exactly what the insurer alertly did.

The company interviewed several Pike County (Ga.) officials, who said she wasn't trying to hide the fact that she was alive, not even a little bit.

"It's my understanding that she was continuing in her daily walk of life," Pike County Sheriff Jimmy Thomas told reporters.

A sheriff's deputy sent to check out the insurance company's inquiry reported seeing both Gavetts on November 18.

Cynthia even called a sheriff's deputy just before Thanksgiving and invited him over for the holidays.

The insurer then contacted the local newspaper to see if it had printed an obituary on Cynthia. Nope, none had appeared.

"No one dies without an obituary," said Georgia insurance commissioner John Oxendine, whose office helped unravel the alleged scheme.

Then the office coordinating the search for people missing from the World Trade Center had no record of Cynthia.

Meanwhile, Charles was busy building his case. He produced what he said was her appointment book plus an affidavit signed by their 14-year-old daughter swearing Cynthia was missing. He filled out a bunch of insurance forms attesting to her death.

He even asked for an urn of ashes from the attack site, plus survivor funding from the Red Cross.

Mayor Rudy Guliani was moved enough to send Charles a letter of consolation.

Charles and Cynthia probably aren't feeling much consolation right now. They're charged with insurance fraud in Georgia, and could receive up to 10 years in prison apiece if they're convicted.

Now comes word that the Gavetts may have made other claims that could push the bogus total to more than half a million dollars.

Others have been arrested for filing claims for phony deaths after the attacks, despite reports that the Gavetts were the first. Still, the strange saga of Charles and Cynthia tells us much the minds and motives of alleged scammers who'd use a national tragedy for personal profit.

"We're a very rural county. We would not have expected somebody to take advantage like this," said Sheriff Thomas, who undoubtedly spoke for many of the grieving families who witnessed this tale.

View previous "Fraud Cases of the Month"

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