A.G Schneiderman Announces 16 Arrests In Staged Automobile Accident Scheme

Defendants Crashed Into Unsuspecting Drivers To Receive Fraudulent Insurance Payouts

Over $400,000 In Fraudulent Billing Submitted

Schneiderman: Perpetrators Of This Dangerous Scheme Will Be Brought To Justice

 

NEW YORK– Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the arrests of 16 individualsfor their roles in staging automobile accidents to fraudulently receive insurance payouts. As part of a criminal  conspiracy that involved the intentional crashing of cars into unsuspecting drivers or individuals agreeing to fake accidents with each other, the defendants submitted fraudulent insurance claims for $400,000. The defendants are charged with multiple crimes, including Insurance Fraud, Grand Larceny and Falsifying Business Records, as well as misdemeanor Conspiracy to commit these crimes.

“This staged accident scheme put innocent lives in danger in order to make the perpetrators a quick buck – now they will be brought to justice,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Breaking up this criminal operation means safer streets, and a fairer market for consumers whose insurance premiums skyrocket as a result of fraud. Our office, along with our partners in law enforcement, will continue to crack down on this dangerous and costly crime that leaves many victims in its wake. Criminals will be held accountable for terrorizing innocent New Yorkers on the road, and socking unsuspecting consumers with increased car insurance premiums.”

These individuals are charged with conspiring to create nine staged accidents in Brooklyn, beginning in September 2009, in order to fraudulently bill insurance carriers and collect illegal payouts. Some of the defendants allegedly arranged and participated in the accidents, while others agreed to be the passengers in the vehicles. Still others pretended that they had been in a particular accident, when in fact they had not even been in the vehicles that crashed. The most recent incident charged in today’s arrests occurred in May 2011.

The defendants are charged with using various methods to stage the accidents. In several instances, the defendants rented U-Haul trucks and intentionally crashed them into livery cabs. In those cases, one group of defendants drove or were passengers in a U-Haul truck, while the other group of defendants agreed to hail a livery cab, driven by an unsuspecting driver, which the U-Haul driver would then crash into. In a second type of staged accident, the defendants pretended to be pedestrians struck by other defendants or by vehicles driven by unsuspecting drivers. The defendants in these cases claimed that the drivers ran into them, when in reality they either walked into the vehicle or slapped the vehicle to make it sound like they had been struck. Finally, in other incidents, the defendants agreed to crash two vehicles into each other.

In New York State, a person injured in a motor vehicle accident is automatically covered by the Comprehensive Motor Vehicle Insurance Reparations Act, commonly referred to as the No-Fault law. No-Fault insurance carriers are required to provide reimbursement for a wide range of medical and health services for injuries related to car accidents, up to $50,000 per person. In addition to medical coverage, a victim in a motor vehicle accident may be eligible to recover money from an insurance carrier for a bodily injury lawsuit stemming from injuries resulting from the accident.

Most of the defendants allegedly agreed to participate in the accidents in exchange for money up front and the promise of a bodily injury lawsuit settlement after they were treated at a medical clinic. According to today’s charges, after they staged the accidents, the defendants lied to the responding police officers and pretended that the accident had been real. Most of the defendants falsely claimed that they had been injured as a result of the accidents and sought treatment at various medical clinics in Brooklyn. These defendants filled out insurance forms that included false information about the accident and the defendants’ purported injuries. The clinics where these defendants were treated then requested and often received reimbursement from the insurance carriers. Some of the defendants also received money from bodily injury settlements.

The following defendants are charged with multiple felonies, including Insurance Fraud, Grand Larceny and Falsifying Business Records, as well as misdemeanor Conspiracy to commit these crimes:

  • Jemal Aigle, age 28, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Chantel Coke, age 25, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Joseph Free, age 24, of  Brooklyn, NY;
  • Elhajj Gonzales, age 37, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Mark Gooding, age 27, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Kenneth Hardy, age 29, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Kenroy John, age 23, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Darryl Johnson, age 23, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Clarence McCollum, age 46, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Kiran Newton, age 20, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Joan Vasquez, age 28, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Garry Walls, age 27 of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Karon Washington, age 22, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Nyiesha Washington, age 29, of Brooklyn, NY;
  • Tanisha Wheeler, age 38, of Brooklyn, NY; and
  • Cedric White, age 23, of Brooklyn, NY.

These arrests are the culmination of a joint investigation into staged accidents and no-fault insurance fraud by the Office of the Attorney General and the New York City Police Department (NYPD), in conjunction with the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS). The Attorney General thanks the NYPD's Fraudulent Accident Investigation Squad.

This case was investigated by NYPD Detectives Patrick Donohue, Peter Bowen, Christopher Geivye and Joseph Oliver under the supervision of Sergeant Christopher Koch, Lieutenant Edwin Martinez, Captain Donald Boller and Inspector Brian O'Neil. The Attorney General thanks DFS Superintendent Benjamin M. Lawsky, as well as Executive Deputy Superintendent Joy Feigenbaum, Director Frank Orlando and Investigator Arthur Masinksi of DFS's Financial Frauds and Consumer Protection Division. The Attorney General also thanks the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Allstate Insurance Company, American Transit Insurance Company, Country-Wide Insurance Company, Erie Insurance, Farmers Insurance Company, GEICO Insurance Company, GMAC Insurance Company, Repwest Insurance Company and U-Haul for their assistance in the investigation.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kellysaid, “Medical insurance fraud schemes are fueled by phony auto accidents and fake injuries that ultimately drive up the cost of insurance premiums. I commend the NYPD’s Organized Crime Investigation Division, the New York State Attorney General's office and New York State Department of Financial Services for this successful investigation.”

Superintendent of Financial ServicesBenjamin M. Lawsky, said: “Arrests like these are just round one in the fight against no-fault fraud. We will use every tool at our disposal to fight this crime because it victimizes honest New Yorkers with higher insurance premiums and health care costs. The Department of Financial Services launched this investigation when we uncovered a pattern of evidence linking these defendants to a series of staged accidents. The Department commends Attorney General Schneiderman and the New York Police Department Fraudulent Accident Investigation Squad for their hard work in bringing these charges.”

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Chin-Ho Cheng and Milton Yu and Senior Investigative Counsel Nina Sas of the Auto Insurance Fraud Unit, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton and Bureau Chief Gail Heatherly of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Nancy Hoppock. The case was investigated by Investigators Dennis Laverty, Elsa Rojas, Kenneth Morgan and Sixto Santiago, Analysts Danyelle Ritter, Yuriy Kurbatov and Lori Alden and Auditor Alex Ozechowski, under the supervision of Acting Deputy Chief Leonard D'Alessandro and Acting Chief Dominick Zarrella of the Investigations Bureau.

The charges against the defendants are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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