Recent charges against a foot doctor challenge a belief among many consumers that insurance fraud is a relatively low-level, white-collar scam.
The issue: fraud as violence.
Foot doctor Ira Bernstein allegedly tried to hire thugs to beat up two insurance-fraud investigators and throw them off the track.
The Ramapo, N.Y. man and his girlfriend met with someone they thought was a hitman to kill his wife Susan — and rough up the fraud investigators, federal prosecutors contend. The investigators were looking into whether Bernstein bilked health insurers with false claims.
The purported hitman was a wired informant. He revealed the suspected plot to police.
Police also set up Hollywood-style murder photos. They applied makeup so the investigators would look mugged. The snitch then showed Bernstein the seemingly grisly images to fool the foot doctor into revealing more suspected evidence.
Bernstein could be innocent. He’ll have his justly deserved day in court.
Whatever the outcome, the case shines a light on a broader concern that insurance fraud is widely perceived as a relatively tame white-collar scam with few real victims.
Once embedded as a norm … this lax attitude edges dangerously closer to making an $80-billion insurance crime a socially acceptable way people can lard their bank accounts, live well, or exact policyholder revenge against insurers for high premiums paid out without claims.
Insurance fraud has a seedy history of Mafia-style violence — or threatened harm — against against investigators … judges … witnesses … and other hardworking professionals just trying to do fair justice. Blind panic and fear when cornered by courts and investigators can turn swindlers into murderers.
An insurance agent shot and killed two fraud investigators who were looking into his practices. Rhett Jeansonne and Kim Sledge were with the Louisiana insurance department. John Melvin Lavergne gunned them down at his Ville Platte agency, then shot himself.
Alarmed insurance regulators around the U.S. quickly strengthened procedures for how investigators can stay safer when visiting a suspect’s office or home.
Sallie Rohrbach died doing her duty as well. She was an auditor with the North Carolina insurance department. A troubled agent clubbed her to death with a chair while she was in his office reviewing his books for possible theft of client premiums.
Tyesha Towanda Roberts offered to hired someone to shoot a witness involving insurance torchings of a home and two vehicles. The Baltimore woman wanted $10,000 to set up the murder. A cohort offered to help shoot the witness himself. Except that Roberts and her cohort spilled the plot to an undercover officer. Roberts was convicted, and will be sentenced in August 2016.
Nightclub insurer mogul Jeffrey Cohen plotted to assassinate the judge overseeing the bankrupt insurer’s liquidation.
Cohen deceived regulators into thinking his failing insurance empire was financially solid.
A former nightclub bouncer, Cohen drew up a hit list of Maryland and Delaware officials involved with his case. Plus driving directions to the home of the judge overseeing the insurer’s liquidation.
Seven assault weapons were seized at Cohen’s home. “Society needs to look at the fact that killing isn’t wrong in certain circumstances, and killing culls the weak,” he said in a sound recording. Cohen was handed 37 years in federal prison.
Buying the narrative that insurance fraud is tame feeds the dystopian mindset that eggs people to use violence to defend their schemes. Even seemingly average people can become killers when their fraud plots start unravelling.
So when you think of insurance fraud as a soft and minor crime … just visit Sallie Rohrbach’s grave. She’s buried in Raleigh Memorial Park in Fuquay-Varina, N.C.
Proposing ongoing blog about all things insurance fraud. Consumer attitudes that let fraud thrive … strategies for changing minds … new fraud trends and why they’re important …
Profile how people are victimized. How fraud crimes are investigated and convicted. Highlight breaking cases and fraud trends — and why they’re important.
Also look on light side — knuckleheads who bumble to bogus fake workers comp injury claims.
About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.