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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Indiana

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lead defendant in fraud scheme sentenced in Federal Court

Group staged car crashes to collect over $1.4 million in fraudulent insurance claims

Evansville--United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler, today announced that an Evansville man has been sentenced in federal court for his role in a scheme to defraud insurance companies by staging automobile crashes. Michael W. Burris, Sr. 58, was sentenced to 115 months (9 1/2 years) years imprisonment by U.S. District Chief Judge Richard L. Young.

“The Burris family is the face of organized crime in the Evansville area,” said Minkler. “Michael Burris Sr. put countless public safety officials in harm’s way by calling them to emergency runs that were staged. Further, we all pay for his crime through higher insurance premiums, and increased health care and Medicare costs.”

Between 2008 and 2014, Michael W. Burris, Sr. 58, and others, planned a series of automobile crashes in and around Evansville.  They recruited persons to participate in the staged crashes, made false police reports about the crashes, and then filed claims with insurance providers for “injuries” suffered in the crash which were self-inflicted or fabricated.

In several scenarios, members of the Burris family conspiracy acquired an automobile to use in the staged crash and made certain the vehicle was insured or obtained insurance just weeks before the staged crash.  They would then recruit someone to crash the vehicle in a remote area, into a tree or other fixed object causing significant damage.  After the crash, the driver would leave the scene and other recruited participants waiting nearby would enter the vehicle and wait for emergency personnel to respond.  They would then make a false police report and be taken to the hospital for their purported injuries. In 2008 at least two Lifeline helicopters were used to transport co-conspirators.  Vehicles were often loaded with three or four people, some of which were minors and pregnant women after the staged crash to maximize insurance claims.

Burris Sr. and his conspirators purposely injured the “victims” to create an appearance that they sustained the injuries in the crash.  They did this by punching them in the face, cutting their face with a razor blade, hitting them with wooden or metal poles and using a wire brush on their forehead.

Burris and other conspirators instructed the crash participants on how to appear injured by not exiting the vehicle under their own power, using emergency medical resources, and running up medical expenses through hospital stays.  He had the “victims” submit false insurance claims and would coach them on how to answer questions from the insurance representatives.  When the crash participants received their injury claim checks from the insurance companies, Burris and the participants would go directly to the bank on which the check was written, get cash, and divide it among the conspirators.

This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, Evansville Police Department, Indiana State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office, the United States Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives assisted in the arrest of the 36 persons charged in the indictment today.

"Over the last year and half, the Secret Service has tirelessly pursued justice with the assistance of many other federal, state and local agencies,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Paul Dvorak.  “Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime.  This type of fraud can have a significant detrimental effect on the economy of our community.  We are proud that the significant and numerous arrests made here today will have a positive impact on the city of Evansville and hopefully deter similar crimes in the future.”

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to strongly pursue its mission of investigating mail fraud crimes and protecting the US Postal Service and its customers,” stated Inspector in Charge, Tommy Coke, Pittsburgh Division, U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

“When I started my career in retail loss prevention over twenty years ago, the Burris family and their associates were one of the first criminal groups I dealt with,” said Evansville Police Chief Billy Bolin.  “It would be nice if they learned from their past mistakes, but it appears they’ve just become more sophisticated in their schemes.”

“I’m pleased the state police were able to play a role in advancing this investigation” said Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter.  “Financial crimes like this impact insurance premiums for honest people and this particular criminal enterprise also resulted in public safety resources responding to staged crash scenes,” Carter concluded.

17other individuals who were indicted in this case have plead guilty.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Todd S. Shellenbarger and Kyle Sawa who are prosecuting this case for the government, Burris Sr must also serve three years of supervised release after his sentence.

Updated June 30, 2016