2011 Insurance Fraud

Hall of Shame


Hoax Hassids stage daffy diamond heist

Two anxiety-ridden diamond merchants needed money to prop up their struggling business finances.

hassidsTheir loopy plan: Hire two thugs disguised as Hassidic Jews with toy guns. The hoax Hassids would fake a robbery of their New York diamond-district store. They’d pretend to steal the bling, but the merchants would hide the diamonds themselves and make a false $9-million insurance claim.

But Atul Shah and Haveer Kankariya needed a remedial course in thievery. Their own security cameras recorded the disheveled insurance scheme as they lurched from one bungle to the next.

Two Hassids in beards and wide-brimmed black hats entered their store, forced Shah to the floor at gunpoint and then stole the rocks from boxes in a safe, the penurious pair told their insurer after the purported snatch. Police found empty jewelry boxes scattered on the floor. Shah pretended to be hysterical, and Kankariya said he was at home when the robbery went down. Read full story

Home insurance arsonist shoots witnesses, kids

williamcraigmillerDogged by debt, William Craig Miller torched his fancy home for an illicit insurance bailout. But growing desperate as his fraud trial neared, the Scottsdale, Ariz. man coldly executed five people to prevent witnesses from testifying. It was one of the deadliest insurance crimes in U.S. history.

Miller seemed a successful community man and entrepreneur, living in an affluent neighborhood. But he was financially crumbling behind the high-flying veneer, So he hoped a $440,000 insurance payday for incinerating his house would help ease his money woes.

But investigators found gas cans inside the charred ruins. Gasoline pour patterns also were scattered throughout the house, except in his son’s bedroom. Miller was arrested.

The noose tightened as his trial drew nigh. Miller had hired an employee named Steven Duffy to help burn down the place. But Duffy turned remorseful soon afterward. He and his live-in girlfriend Tammy Lovell agreed to testify against Miller.

Their testimony could send him up the river. They had to go. Read full story

Roof caves in on DJ’s stormy insurance con

Radio DJ Tanya Cruise sailed rough waters. She had two crooked politicians and a shady adjuster create storm damage to her home in a hapless insurance scheme that was discovered when one of her corrupt politicos was wiretapped for yet other corruption crimes.

rooferLori Sergiacomi was known as smooth-talking Tanya Cruise, the popular midday DJ for Lite Rock 105 in the Providence, R.I. area.

Groundwater flooded her basement after a big summer storm, but she didn’t have federal flood insurance.

Sergiacomi also wanted to make expensive improvements to her roof and pool, and figured the storm provided the perfect cover for an insurance scam to pay for her uninsured home improvements.

She was buddies with two shady local politicos who were glad to help out. John Zambarano, then a North Providence councilman, banged a big hole into her roof with a branch. He also messed up her home interior and pool to mimic insurable storm damage. Former town council president and home contractor Robert Ricci helped with the damage. Read full story

Crooked cop shoots self in foot with shot to chest

gunpointThe distress call came in — a cop was down.

A passer-by found Los Angeles School District police officer Jeff Stenroos lying on the ground near his open car door.

A car-burglary suspect with a pony tail and black leather jacket pumped a bullet into Stenroos while he patrolled the perimeter of El Camino High, the seemingly stricken officer said.

But the attack on an officer was a hoax. Stenroos shot himself in his bullet-proof vest and then took paid time off of work courtesy of a fraudulent workers compensation injury claim.

His scheme created chaos throughout San Fernando Valley right after the shooting. Read full story

Playing with fire burns homeowners and hired torch

housefireVictor and Olga Barriere wanted to burn down their rickety home for insurance money. They got their wish, but paid a higher price than any insurance money they could steal.

Their hired henchman was a rank amateur at home arsons. He blew up the house in a searing fireball, fatally engulfing himself in flames and endangering homes throughout the neighborhood.

The rundown, 600-square-foot structure in Long Beach, Calif. had numerous code violations that would require expensive repairs.

The Barrieres also were stuck with a $315,000 mortgage and a decaying home nobody wanted to buy. They’d tried to sell the house several times, but no buyers.

Fed up, they hired their handyman Thomas Trucios to barbecue the place for an insurance payday. Read full story


Cow parts and mannequin hide dopey death

Jim Davis died suddenly in his home, felled by a tragic heart attack.

casketMourners stood by as his coffin was lowed into the ground during a touching graveside funeral at a Los Angeles cemetery. Peace eternal, Jim, peace eternal.

But Jim Davis never existed. He was pure vapor, and the coffin was empty. A mortuary worker and phlebotomist faked his death in a screwball scheme to steal nearly $1 million in life insurance.

And get this — the dizzy duo covered up their con with a mannequin and cow parts. Huh? Read on. Using forged documents, Jean Crump, Faye Shilling and several other cronies convinced life insurers to issue $950,000 in coverage on so-called Davis. They bought the burial plot, staged his funeral, buried his casket and even hired mourners to enhance the surrealism. Read full story

Buckner2Daughter, hubby get dishonest demises

Pitiable family calamities dogged Bridget Buckner. The Chicago-area woman’s husband and little daughter had died suddenly, just months apart.

How sad.

Buckner produced death certificates and enough vivid detail to convince her employer’s life insurer to hand over $25,000 in life-insurance money. But neither family member actually died. She offed them on paper to heist the insurance loot.

Buckner’s preschool child Briajay died of an illness in 2008, she told the life insurer with whom she had coverage through her employer, Hallmark Services. She made the claim barely a month after starting with the company. Buckner forked over a bogus Cook County death certificate and collected $10,000 in life-insurance money. Read full story


Pastor cares enough to kill disabled friend

calendarpushia2Legally blind and mentally disabled, Lemuel Wallace thought he had a caring friend in Kevin Pushia.

After all, Pushia was a pastor, a supposed man of peace. He also was known for his work with Baltimore's developmentally disabled.

And yes, Pushia really did care: About getting rich, and Wallace was his meal ticket. Pushia had him executed to score a $1.4-million life-insurance payout.

Pushia cared so much that he even stole $50,000 from his own church to pay the hitmen. He was thousands of dollars in debt and faced foreclosure on several properties. Read full story

Armenian mob boss milks Medicare for $160 million

Vor. It’s an obscure word, good for scoring points in Scrabble. But in the world of Armenian mobsters, a Vor is the godfather, the don — the gang’s overlord.

Armen Karazianis was a Vor who ran a vast Armenian criminal gang in the U.S. The far-reaching kleptocracy brazenly looted American taxpayers with $160 million in bogus treatment claims against Medicare.

It was alpha thievery to the max, one of the biggest Medicare heists ever committed by a single criminal enterprise.

His gang was “a veritable fraud franchise” that “puts the traditional Mafia to shame,” said a federal prosecutor at his trial. Karazianis’ Medicare thievery was “diabolical,” the head of the FBI’s New York operation added. Read full story

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