Fraud of the Month archives

 

September 2018: Home arsons are fiery family affairs in West Virginia

imageLester family buys three homes for cheap, torches for inflated claims The Lesters were a well-known family in parts of Southern West Virginia. Especially, patriarch Windel Lester sat on the board of a local bank. He also owned a hardware store and sold mobile homes. Windel thought big, as community pillars should. Except he slid off the railroad tracks of respectability, deciding that burning homes for insurance money would be his next business venture. The whole clan joined in, burning down three homes and trying to walk away with more than $556,000 of insurance money. Windel had it all figured ...

 





 

August 2018: Sprinklers splash doomed pizzeria insurance arson

Owner muffs blaze ineptly planned to look like a grease fire

If Mustafa Zabana cooked pizza with the skill he used to fry his pizza shop, he should be selling furniture or shoes instead.

The Iraqi national owned Bruno’s Pizza in a strip mall in Enfield, Conn. Zabana was ambitious. He wanted to build a bigger and better pizza emporium. Insurance money was his meal ticket, literally.

So Zabana decided to torch the place and use the insurance money to build a fancier eatery. Except Zabana had little idea how to burn ...

 





 

July 2018: Flames, floods engulf Florida homes in adjuster's $14M plot

Give corrupt public adjuster Jorge Fausto Espinosa credit for one thing — maybe he wasn’t honest, though he was certainly prolific with wrecking homes. The South Florida man recruited dozens of homeowners to burn or flood their places for about $14 million of inflated insurance claims in one of the most legendary plots by an adjuster in a state known for brazen insurance scams. Espinosa may go down as arguably the Dangerous Don of shady adjusters in Florida annals. Espinosa was an independent (or “public”) adjuster. He made his living by earning a percent of insurance payouts he ...

 





 

June 2018: Parachutist survives 4,000-foot drop, husband disables chutes

Deeply in debt, UK husband tries to kill wife for life insurance, run away with mistress

skydiver_life_fraudWhat fearful emotions raced through parachutist Victoria Cilliers as she tumbled 4,000 feet toward almost certain death? The UK woman was an experienced parachute instructor and army physiotherapist with 2,600 jumps to her credit. Yet the impossible had happened. Both her main chute and backup had failed on a routine jump at the Netheravon Airfield, home of the Army Parachute Association.  Time for final prayers, really. Yet the impossible happened, again. Victoria slammed into a newly plowed field. The churned soil cushioned her body like ...

 





 

May 2018: Families torn apart by relentless pursuit of bogus whiplash claims

Families torn apart by relentless pursuit of bogus whiplash claims

imageCorruption by stealing insurance money can creep up on normally decent people. The opioid-like lure of easy money grinds away at even your deepest-held values, shifting a well-lived life into a corrosive money grab that breaks apart a helpless family when fraud prosecutors come knocking. Jason Dalley was a personal-injury lawyer. He also was a loyal Little League Coach, respected in the community and a devoted family man. Andrew Rubinstein was a Ukrainian emigre, and the glue that held his family together amid the weight of personal tragedies. Dalley’s and ...

 





 

April 2018: Samaritan scammer has himself shot to steal disability

Leg amputated after claiming ambushed while helping stranded motorist

imageShannon Egeland stopped to help a pregnant woman stranded on a roadside late one summer night near Caldwell, Idaho. It was an ambush.  Someone snuck up behind, bopped him in the head and shotgunned him. The blast tore into Egeland’s legs. He had large blood loss and shattered bones, forcing surgeons to amputate his left leg. Or so the former Idaho developer told his disability insurer. Egeland had his teenage son Ryland blast him in his legs with a 20-gauge shotgun, then left him lying by the roadside in a bizarre insurance ...

 





 

March 2018: Turning a blind eye: Docs sticks patients with needles, lasers

Specialist also sticks Medicare with $137M in bogus eye claims

imagePatients flocked to Dr. Salomon Melgen, looking for relief of serious eye conditions. The West Palm Beach, Fla. eye specialist returned their trust by thrusting needles painfully in their eyes and searing their retinas with lasers. It was a festival of worthless and botched procedures that left patients with damaged eyes. For Melgen, the payoff was a $136-million filching of Medicare and taxpayers. He became a rich man replete with a luxury mansion until investigators, well, saw through his shortsighted eye ruses. The Harvard-trained specialist was well-known and sought-after, especially ...

 





 

February 2018: Former NFL linebacker benched for inflating injury claim

Pro athletes enmeshed in scams as victims, perpetrators

imageMarcus Buckley had a decent NFL career as a linebacker who made his living from helmet-jarring collisions with running backs. His seven-year stint came mostly with the New York Giants. Yet perhaps Buckley’s biggest and baddest opponent double-teamed him the hardest — federal prosecutors. The Texas man inflated workers-compensation claims for lingering injuries that dogged him for years after he retired following the 2000 season. Buckley’s now benched, spending two years in federal prison. Insurance fraud is hardly a contact sport, yet pro athletes can be enmeshed in scams — ...

 





 

January 2018: High-flying airplane con crash lands and deep-sixes

Ditzy gang wrecks planes, Lamborghini, luxury boat in doomed insurance plot

imageSmoke filled the Beechcraft Baron airplane 30 miles off the Louisiana coast … going down fast. Pilot Theodore R. Wright III radioed for help when flames spat out from behind the instrument panel, melting the windshield. He bellied the plane into the ocean — a cool-headed, life-saving maneuver. Or so Wright claimed. Ditching the Beechcraft actually was a ditzy insurance hoax — Wright crash-landed and sank it on purpose. The deep-six dunking jumpstarted a doomed plot to wreck the Beechcraft … another plane … a Lamborghini … ...

 





 

December 2017: Young broker steals client premiums for mansion living

imageRising prodigy overspends, crashes after leaving clients without protection

Earl O’Garro had it all — and more. The young insurance broker was a rising prodigy in a city known for insurance stars. O’Garro owned Hybrid Insurance Group, which specialized in expensive, high-risk coverage for businesses and others. He opened Hybrid in a modest suburban office. His business quickly seemed to take off like a flashing comet. One client was the city of Hartford, with O’Garro supposedly buying several liability policies. Indeed, life seemed good. O’Garro paid himself a high six-figure salary, and bought a six-bedroom mansion in a tony suburb. ...

 





 

November 2017: Homes bought cheap, burned for inflated claims

imageArson rings round up dozens of homes to torch in arson spree

Homes and cars were kindling for Verdon Taylor, the overlord of a crime ring that lit up more than 30 arson fires to score nearly $1 million of insurance money. Buy cheap and claim big was Taylor’s modus during a 16-year binge that traversed the Richmond, Va. area Taylor’s rat pack bought homes and cars at auctions and foreclosure sales — all at steep discount prices. Single-family homes and mobile trailers and cars all were rounded up. Taylor’s cohorts often rented houses as well. They stuffed the homes ...

 





 

October 2017: Celeb skin doc bills nose jobs as insured medical repairs

imageFugitive goes on run after convicted of $50-million insurance grab

Patients found Dr. David Morrow’s offer an easy sell — he’d pretty them up with free or discounted cosmetic surgery. Insurers would pay most of the tab, the celebrity skin doc told patients at his clinic in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Except health insurance generally doesn’t pay for plastic surgery. Beautifying the body is more an elective personal pleasure than than true medical need. So Morrow blithely invented medical diagnoses he knew insurers would pay — falsely billing $50 million for trumped-up surgeries. He billed nose jobs as fixing deviated ...