2009 Insurance Fraud

Hall of Shame


William_CunninghamDad poisons own kids to extort insurance money

A Georgia man received 100 years in federal prison for poisoning his two kids' soup with lighter fluid and prescription drugs to extort a payday from the Campbell Soup Co. Former truck driver William Cunningham's kids were 18 months and three years old at the time. He first placed hot peppers in three-year-old Billy's soup, roasted beef tips with orzo pasta. The child's face and mouth burned and swelled up badly, and he went to the hospital.

About two weeks later, Cunningham laced Billy's and Miranda's bowls of SpaghettiOs Sliced Franks with lighter fluid and antidepressants. Later he forced more of the poison soup down their throats, and they went to the hospital.

Cunningham threatened to sue Campbell, but the company found no evidence it had prepared tainted soup. The kids may have suffered permanent lung damage from the lighter fluid, which scarred their lungs. They now need breathing treatment, relatives say. No one knows how widespread such insurance extortion cons are, but the initial negative publicity can damage victimized businesses. Read full story

Fake injury claim body-slams shady wrestler

Michael_TarisThe Levittown, Pa. man tossed large, beefy guys around the ring as a pro wrestler for the National Wrestling Superstars. But he didn’t expect to be hammerlocked by investigators for faking an injury to extort a payout from 7-Eleven convenience store.

Taris lied that a little puddle of coffee on the floor had body-slammed him to the floor, seriously injuring his back, neck and legs.

He said he couldn't work, roughhouse with his son, stand for long periods of time or even mow the lawn. But all the while, Taris was banging around the ring, and even working as a male escort and massage therapist. Read full story

Jittery agent shoots investigator just doing her job

The auditor for the North Carolina insurance department was combing Charlotte agent Michael Howell's records for clues he was bilking clients and mismanaging agency funds. He'd stolen more than $150,000 in premiums that hundreds of clients had paid him for auto and homeowner insurance. Howell had left his clients dangerously uncovered.

The insurer he did business with, GMAC Insurance, even had severed ties with Howell over the mess and alerted the department about Howell's problems.

But nobody would foresee the violence and tragedy to come.

Rohrbach drove in from the department's headquarters in Raleigh in mid-May 2008 and began her probe of Howell's tangled finances. The project seemed straight-forward enough, a bookish drill into a struggling agent's finances. She emailed her supervisor after a day, noting she'd found troubling evidence in Howell's books. Read full story

Family massacred for $250,000 life-insurance payday

The smell of a blood money impelled the New Orleans man to massacre his stepson, his stepson’s wife and their four-year-old daughter for $250,000 in life insurance.

Rubenstein bought the policy for four-year-old Krystal and listed his wife Doris as the beneficiary. He took the doomed family to his vacation cabin in rural Mississippi under the pretext of helping the Krystal’s parents iron out some marital problems. Once they arrived, Rubenstein killed them in an orgy of violence.

Several weeks afterward, police found the badly decomposed bodies of Rubenstein’s stepson, Darrell Perry and wife Annie, on the living room floor next a still-running TV. They'd been repeatedly stabbed.

Little Krystal was strangled, and was found on a bed. Read full story

Devout grandmother burned alive in home arson

In a misplaced show of family togetherness, the Miami man burned his grandmother alive by torching his family’s home for an insurance payout.

Virginia Howard was a devout woman and family matriarch who played piano for her church. The family home mysteriously went down in flames, killing Howard with burns over 70 percent of her body.

Investigators quickly suspected Drayton, largely because his excuses and alibis seemed hopelessly muddled. First he blamed his uncle for setting the fire. Except that his uncle was in prison at the time.

Drayton finally confessed when investigators found his gas-soaked clothing. His remarkable explanation: His family members who owned the house were having financial problems. If he burned down their house, the money from their homeowner policy would help ease their problems. Read full story

Muddled excuses for fake car theft backfire on cop

After dissecting alibis of thieves as an officer for the Rosedale, Miss. police department, Marvin Johnson should’ve learned something about skillfully covering up crimes.

Like his own.

Johnson faked the theft of a Toyota Avalon for an insurance payout, but offered a clueless series of explanations, each more muddled than the next. His stories become so tangled that he had no chance of escape from the jail cells to which he’d sent street crooks. Like, ultimately, himself.

Johnson first lied that someone stole his Avalon from in front of his home. But his claim with Progressive Insurance quickly dissolved. Read full story

Hired torch blows himself up in botched home arson

As the recession stretches grimly onward, thousands of stressed homeowners are staring at foreclosure and desperately looking to avoid losing their homes.

For some, the clear-headed answer is to burn down the home they want to save.

Driven over the cliff's edge emotionally and financially, these troubled homeowners hope insurance fraud will bail them out of foreclosure or soak up mounting bills as their finances crater in a sagging economy.

But instead, their smoky schemes endanger neighbors and fire fighters, raise honest people's premiums, and speed their own path to ruin.

Juan Jose Luna's arson scheme literally blew up in his face. Read full story

Read about previous year’s inductees to the Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame: