News and Press Releases

Four Defendants Plead Guilty in Staged Automobile Accident Scheme

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 28, 2013

92 defendants have been charged to date in Operation Sledgehammer I-VI

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, Michael J. DePalma, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Jeff Atwater, Florida Chief Financial Officer, and Dave Aronberg, State Attorney, Office of the State Attorney for Palm Beach County, announced that defendants Luis Ivan Hernandez, 40, and Maria Testa Baceiro, a/k/a “Maria Testa,” 29, both of Miami, and Olinda Rodriguez, 39, of West Palm Beach, pled guilty today for their participation in a staged automobile accident scheme. Defendant Iris Roca, 41, of Davie, pled guilty on June 26, 2013 for her role in the scheme. Sentencing is set for September 30, 2013 before Judge Marra starting at 9:00 a.m.

Clinic owners Hernandez and Baceiro each pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349; 27 counts of mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h). Hernandez also pled guilty to 21 counts of money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(a)(1). Baceiro pled guilty to 20 counts of money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(a)(1).

Licensed massage therapists Rodriguez and Roca each pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349. These defendants were charged in separate Informations for their participation in the staged accident fraud schemes.

The defendants face the following possible maximum statutory sentences: 20 years in prison for each count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, substantive mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and substantive money laundering. Restitution to the victims of the offenses is mandatory.

According to court documents, between approximately October 2006 and December 2012, the defendants staged automobile accidents and thereafter caused the submission of false insurance claims through chiropractic clinics they controlled. To execute the scheme, the true owners of the chiropractic clinics recruited individuals, who had the medical or chiropractic licenses required by the state to open a clinic, to act as “nominee owners” of the clinics. The defendants also recruited individuals, whom they referred to as “Perro” and “Perra,” to participate in the accidents, and others to help the clinics launder the insurance proceeds. The defendants also hired complicit chiropractors and therapists who prescribed and billed for unnecessary treatments and/or for services that had not been rendered. Thereafter, complicit clinic employees prepared and submitted claims to the automobile insurance companies for payment for these unnecessary or non-rendered services. Twenty-one clinics participated in this scheme.

Starting with Operation Sledgehammer I in June 2011 and including the defendants charged in Operation Sledgehammer VI, 92 defendants have been charged for their participation in this automobile insurance fraud scheme. Of those 92 defendants, 56 have been charged federally by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, resulting in court-ordered restitution of more than $5 million to the defrauded insurance companies. Thirty-six defendants have been charged by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office.

Mr. Ferrer commended the efforts of the FBI, IRS-CI, the Florida Department of Insurance Fraud, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, and the Greater Palm Beach County Health Care Fraud Task Force for their outstanding work in this case. Mr. Ferrer also recognized the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) for its collaboration and assistance in this investigation. The federal cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Marie Villafaña and the state cases are being prosecuted by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office.

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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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