9 Extreme Insurance Schemers of 2015 Chosen
Convicted criminals reveal high human costs insurance fraud inflicts
Fast ... Don your hazmat suits and bolt your front doors. America's nine worst insurance criminals of 2015 have been selected.
The No-Class of 2015 reveals the year’s most-brazen, vicious or klutzy insurance swindlers — America’s newest pharaohs of fraud.
They dwell in a permanent cellblock, the Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame. All were convicted or had other legal closure last year.
These barons of bleak reveal the human face of insurance fraud. Victims can suffer despair and depression. Some are injured or die. Families are broken up. Consumers can lose their life savings. Our insurance premiums rise.
So feel outrage and get mad. Even laugh — a little — at the more-knuckleaded cons. Yet also resolve to stay alert ... avoid money-stealing cons ... and report swindles. Check and share infographic for more about fraud.
With committed action by honest Americans everywhere, together we can turn the corner on this insurance fraud for good.
Basement a fiery coffin for arson plot
Searing flames closed in on Dion Longworth. He was trapped in the basement of his burning home, desperately trying to escape a wall of flames creeping toward him.
Firefighter Richard Shirven locked with him hand and arm with him through a small debris-choked hole in the wall. Shirven tried to yank aside the baking, blackened debris and pull Dion from the devouring flames. His path was impassibly, fatally blocked.
“It’s so hot, it’s so hot. Please get me out of here,” Longworth begged just before the flames consumed him.
Mark Leonard and his girlfriend Monseratte Shirley lived in the home next door in the cozy Indianapolis neighborhood of Richmond Hills.
Bludgeoned by credit card, mortgage and gambling debts, Leonard masterminded a plot to burn down the place for a $300,000 insurance windfall.
He botched the scheme. The fire exploded with the force of a drone strike. The blast leveled the house, incinerated the next-door neighbors and blew up much of the neighborhood. Read full story
Colossal crash ring in permanent reverse
Dodgy insurance claims for thousands of injured drivers and passengers flooded auto insurers during a reign of error by a Russian-American crime ring working the New York City area.
Mikhail Zemlyansky masterminded the largest no-fault auto scheme ever charged. New York’s streets must’ve seemed like a giant bumper-car ring.
His crooked assembly line churned out $279-million worth of false injury claims from real and phantom car wrecks. Federal agents infiltrated his ring and broke down Zemlyansky’s vast criminal enterprise.
Zemlyansky is a Ukrainian native known as “Russian Mike.” Most ring members were of Russian-American descent. Among them were 10 doctors and three lawyers on the take. Read full story
Puppies nearly burned alive in arson plot
A pet shop owner left her prized puppies to die in an arson fire to bilk her insurer for a bailout from debt.
Gloria Lee owned the Prince and Princess Pet Boutique in Las Vegas. She and her husband suffered serious financial problems and had gone bankrupt.
Lee decided to burn down her pet shop. The insurance money would provide a handy bailout.
But she bungled the plot from the start. Incredibly, Lee’s own store security cameras captured her every move while she and her boyfriend set the fire. And her sprinkler system snuffed the flames. Read full story
Spineless spine surgeries leave patients in agony
Patients trooped into the office of neurosurgeon Dr. Aria Sabit, often desperate for relief from chronic back pain.
The Detroit-area doctor offered a handy off-the-rack solution: Slice them open and fuse their spines — even when they didn’t need it.
Sabit promised to insert an implant to help stabilize the patients’ spines, reduce their pain and allow them to live happier lives. Many trusting patients generally didn’t need the invasive, life-altering implants. Sometimes he sliced open patients and sewed them up while doing zero repairs.
Often the only things Sabit inserted were large and bogus claims to health insurers — $32 million worth. Sabit was a rogue surgeon in a profession defined by honorable and skilled healers.
Federal charges focused on four damaged patients, though officials believe Sabit falsely operated on many more. He performed surgery on almost anyone who walked into his office, an employee told the FBI. Read full story
Crooked lawyer feasts on client settlements
Robert Rough lay on his death bed, ridden with cancer. He’d already lost his business when nerve damage from a car wreck cost him the full use of his hands.
Rough’s lawyer Stephen Krawitz had gotten him a $100,000 insurance settlement. Yet Rough never saw a dime. His Manhattan-based lawyer hid the money for three years until Rough died.
Krawitz stole 1.9 million of insurance settlements from nearly 50 trusting clients before being shut down with up to 12 years in federal prison. Most clients received no money, and some received a fraction.
Rough and his family had kept badgering him. The attorney already had stolen and spent most of the insurance money after forging Rough’s signature to paperwork. Then he kept delaying by sending the sick client to track down supposedly essential paperwork. Read full story
Cop breaks oath, law with serial car cops
NYPD cop Jose Urena swore an oath to uphold the law. Instead he broke the law, again and again.
Urena never met a luxury car he could afford, yet kept buying or leasing so many that he repeatedly bilked his insurer to escape high payments during a manic two-year fraud binge.
He worked the 25th Precinct in East Harlem and tossed away a nine-year career in the process.
His scam bender left the launch pad when he leased a Mercedes-Benz ML 350. Nice wheels — a wallet-busting SUV. Someone vandalized the car, Urena told his auto insurer. The insurer paid out nearly $9,300. Turns out the claim was bogus — the damage happened before the reported incident, an investigation by the state AG’s insurance-fraud unit discovered.
Keeping up with the payments proved too much for his overstretched checkbook. Urena dipped into the fraud pool once more. Read full story
Fake health plan bilks 17,000 victims
Decent health coverage at a discount price.
That’s what William Worthy and his army of aggressive marketers promised thousands of anxious Americans looking for coverage in a downturned economy.
Instead Worthy handed them worthless piece of paper or stripped-down policies that delivered empty promises.
Worthy bilked 17,000 trusting customers and stole as much as $28 million in premiums. The Isle of Palms, S.C. man was a mastermind of one of the largest fake-health plans in U.S. history. It was signature scam during America’s financial meltdown of 2007-2010. Read full story
Ditzy fake-death artist hides in plain sight
Jose Lantigua’s death was so tragic. He went to his eternal reward from a heart attack while vacationing in Venezuela.
The Jacksonville, Fla. furniture-store owner’s family stood to receive up to $9 million worth of life-insurance payouts from seven insurers.
Lantigua was cremated in Venezuela, official documents seemingly confirmed. In truth, he launched a strange and botched scheme to fake his death, collect millions worth of life-insurance money, then quietly live a life of luxury hidden away in the mountains.
The ditzy plot was doomed by his almost comic inability to disguise himself.
His wife Daphne Simpson — who was part of the plot — held a touching and bogus memorial service. Two pastors spoke. Mourners sang “Amazing Grace.” A military Honor Guard saluted him as a supposed Silver Star combat medalist. Read full story
Son worth more dead than alive to father
Volunteer searchers combed the Minneapolis area, anxiously searching for young Barway Collins.
What Boy Scout searchers finally found was horrifying. The 10-year-old’s body was duct-taped, floating in the Mississippi River for nearly a month. His father Pierre had beaten the child to death for life-insurance money, then dumped him into a storm-water cistern.
Collins repeatedly denied any hand in Barway’s death, yet financial pressure had reached near-crisis levels. He had every motive to kill Barway, and life-insurance was his ticket to solvency.
Collins arrived in the U.S. in 2003 from Liberia, a nation riven by civil war. Minneapolis is home to a large Liberian-American community. He barely scratched out a living. Read full story
Read about previous year’s inductees to the Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame:Current • 2014 • 2013 • 2012 • 2011 • 2010 • 2009 • 2008 • 2007 • 2006 • 2005 • 2004 • 2003 • 2002