News and Press Releases

Leader of Massive Staged Car Accident Ring Sentenced on Mail Fraud, Money Laundering, and Structuring for Role in Staged Accident Fraud Scheme

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 25, 2012

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Jose A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CID), John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, and Jeff Atwater, Florida Chief Financial Officer, announced that defendant Oscar Luis Franco Padron was sentenced today in West Palm Beach, Florida, before U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and conspiracy to structure financial transactions, for his role in a staged accident fraud scheme. Franco Padron was the latest and highest-ranking member of the scheme to be sentenced.

Padron, who managed several clinics and recruited patients, had pled guilty on January 11, 2012 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and conspiracy to structure transactions. Padron was sentenced to 96 months in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release, along with restitution in the amount of $4,351,082.13.

Over the past several weeks, U.S. District Judge Marra has also imposed sentences on defendants Joaquin Ross, Aureliano Diaz, Lisbet Leon, Yida Bello, Gloria Cintron, Veronica Riofrio, Ketty Gonzalez, Ernesto Miralles, Julio Fernandez Delgado and Zachary Keith Stuhler for their roles in the same fraud scheme.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “This massive ring orchestrated phony automobile accidents and made a living by defrauding insurance companies of millions of dollars. Auto insurance fraud is not a victimless crime. Not only were the insurance companies defrauded, but this scheme also hurt consumers as our insurance costs continue to soar because of fraud.”

Jose A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation Division said, “Those who think that staged insurance fraud scams are the perfect “get-rich-quick” schemes, need to think again. As uncovered in these investigations, structuring cash transactions in order to evade currency reporting requirements is a crime that will not go undetected by our investigators. The sentences imposed on these defendants illustrate that fraudsters will be put out of business and will not be allowed to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.”

“Oscar Luis Franco Padron staged car accidents in order to defraud insurance companies,” said John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Miami Division. “His unethical and illegal actions motivated by personal greed ultimately led to a jail cell, not riches.”

Jeff Atwater, Florida Chief Financial Officer stated, “Fraudsters and criminal enterprises have learned how to game Florida’s auto insurance system and every honest Floridian with a car on the road ends up paying. Through partnerships with law enforcement and state attorneys, we will go after these criminals, put them in handcuffs and deliver them to justice.”

In their guilty pleas, the defendants admitted they and others would find individuals who owned automobiles and had car insurance from insurance companies that scheme participants preferred in order to participate in staged automobile accidents. In recorded conversations, the recruiters, co-defendants Franco Padron, Ross, Cintron, and Riofrio, have referred to the individuals whom they recruit as the “Perro” and the “Perra.” The “Perro” is the person who causes the staged accident; the “Perra” is the purported victim of the staged accident.

To execute the scheme, the recruiters seek out drivers and their friends/family members to participate because, under Florida’s “No Fault” insurance law, insurers must provide Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage of $10,000 per person. Thus, if the recruiter finds a Perro with a wife and two children and a Perra with two friends, for a total of seven (7) participants, the maximum PIP benefit is $70,000. Once the recruiters found the participants, they coached the participants on how to perform the staged accident, what to say to the police officer who responded to the scene, and on how to claim that they have been injured. Thereafter, the accident was staged. After impact, a police officer was called, and a police report was filed. After the staged accident, the Perro and Perra filed false claims with their insurance companies, alleging that they and their family members were injured.

The accident participants were then directed by the recruiters to chiropractic clinics that were controlled by co-defendants. The staged accident participants filled out paperwork falsely asserting that they suffered injuries during the staged accident. The defendants advised the participants on how to fill out the paperwork and what to say if an insurance investigator interviewed them about their injuries or treatment. The staged accident participants were instructed to sign numerous blank treatment forms that would later be submitted indicating that they had visited the clinic on a number of separate occasions for treatment, although they may have visited the clinic only once or twice. During their visits, some staged accident participants received no treatment at all, or may have received only a short exam or treatment from the Chiropractic Physician, Licensed Chiropractic Assistant, or Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), but the paperwork completed by the LMTs and chiropractors indicated that a full and lengthy exam and treatment was given. Co-defendants Leon, Diaz, Bello, and Gonzalez are all LMTs who will lose their licenses due to the fraud convictions.

Co-defendants Franco Padron and Ross also admitted that, when converting the deposits of the mail fraud proceeds to cash, it was done in a way to avoid the $10,000 Currency Transaction Reporting requirement – a requirement that was known to the co-defendants by virtue of prior bank notifications orally and in writing. Two of the co-defendants would write a series of checks, typically for $9,000 each, made payable to different individuals, including Franco Padron and Ross, that would be cashed on the same day, or made payable to the same individual that would be cashed on successive days, even though there were sufficient funds available in the account to allow for a single check to be cashed. Oftentimes co-defendants would go to the bank together to cash checks simultaneously, but each check would be written for less than the $10,000 currency transaction reporting amount.

The clinics involved in this scheme included Chiropractic Office of South Florida, located in Palm Springs, Florida, New York Medical and Rehab Center, located in Lake Clarke Shores, Florida and Healthcare’R Us in Palm Springs, Florida.

Fifteen individuals have been charged in two federal cases involving the scheme. In the first case, in addition to Padron, the Superseding Indictment charges defendants Vladimir Lopez, Lazaro Vigoa Mauri, aka Lazaro Vigoa, Joaquin Ross, aka Joaquin Ross Vasquez or Quinito, Lisbet Leon, aka Lisbet Leon Machado, Aureliano Diaz, Carmen Venegas, Yida Bello, aka La Gorda, Gloria Patricia Cintron, aka Patty, and Veronica Riofrio, aka Vero. Lopez and Vigoa Mauri are fugitives.

In the second indictment, defendants Ketty Gonzalez, Ernesto Miralles, Julio Fernandez Delgado, Alex Anoldo Flores, and Zachary Keith Stuhler were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and nine counts of mail fraud. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.

Defendant Ross, who served as a clinic manager, pled guilty on November 4, 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of conspiracy to structure financial transactions. Ross was sentenced to 51 months in prison, to be followed by 24 months of supervised release, along with restitution in the amount of $715,937.81.

Defendant Bello, who served as an LMT, previously pled guilty on November 29, 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Bello was sentenced to 60 months in prison, to be followed by 36 months of supervised release, along with restitution in the amount of $2,233,409.56.

Defendant Cintron, who recruited patients to participate in staged accidents, and defendant Leon, who served as an LMT, each previously pled guilty on December 2, 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Cintron was sentenced to 16 months in prison, to be followed by 24 months of supervised release, along with restitution in the amount of $53,558.90. Leon was sentenced to 40 months in prison, to be followed by 24 months of supervised release, along with restitution in the amount of $718,325.14.

Defendant Riofrio who recruited patients to participate in staged accidents and also participated in an accident herself, and defendants Diaz and Venegas, who worked as LMTs and office staff, each previously pled guilty on December 20, 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Riofrio was sentenced to 16 months in prison, to be followed by 24 months of supervised release, along with restitution in the amount of $53,558.90. Diaz was sentenced to 60 months in prison, to be followed by 36 months of supervised release, along with restitution in the amount of $1,495,187.31. Venegas was sentenced to 60 months in prison, to be followed by 24 months of supervised release, along with restitution in the amount of $1,891,228.42.

Defendant Gonzalez, who worked as an LMT, previously pled guilty on February 24, 2012 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Gonzalez was sentenced to 30 months in prison, to be followed by 24 months of supervised release, along with restitution in the amount of $273,226.24.

Defendant Miralles, who served as a patient recruiter, previously pled guilty on February 24, 2012 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Miralles was sentenced to time served (approximately 3 months in prison), to be followed by 24 months of supervised release, including 6 months of home confinement, along with restitution in the amount of $14,617.

Defendant Stuhler, who participated in a single staged accident, previously pled guilty on February 24, 2012 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Stuhler was sentenced to 36 months of probation, including 6 months of home confinement, along with restitution in the amount of $14,617.

Defendant Delgado, who served as a patient recruiter, previously pled guilty on March 1, 2012 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Delgado was sentenced to time served (approximately 4 months in prison), to be followed by 24 months of supervised release, including 6 months of home confinement, along with restitution in the amount of $34,158.73.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the IRS-CID, FBI, Florida Department of Financial Services, and Florida Department of Insurance Fraud, and issued a special thanks to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) for its assistance in this investigation. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Marie Villafaña.

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A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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