Boston Herald Reports
By Jessica Fargen
Braulio Cruz and his three kids – a baby among them – showed up in January at a Lawrence hospital to be treated for injuries after a fender-bender.
Problem is, police say, the kids, aged 11, 7 and 3 months, were not in the alleged crackup.
Nonetheless, Cruz claimed they were all hurt, and investigators say he might have been laying the groundwork for insurance fraud.
“This was a case where people were being added into the car and it was embellished to the point where there’s injuries,” said Lawrence police Chief John Ramero, who has issued a warrant for Cruz.
If Cruz is charged, he will be one of some 200 people who have been busted in the last 18 months for allegedly staging accidents, lying to insurers and billing for no-show chiropractics. The surge in arrests is part of a crackdown on the fraudulent practices, which lead to millions of dollars a year in unfair costs to consumers.
“Everyone pays for it,” said Kimberly A. Giardina, assistant deputy chief of investigations with the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Massachusetts. “Auto insurance fraud gets divvied up between every driver whether you live in Andover, Roxbury or Concord.”
The arrests are a stark departure from a few years ago, when only a handful of scammers were cuffed. Police, district attorneys and the attorney general’s office went on the attack after the death of Altagracia Arias, a grandmother killed in a botched staged accident in Lowell in September 2003.
Lawrence was the first city to form a task force, and insurance claims there have shrunk from $50 million in 2003 to $25 million last year. Nearly 130 people in Lawrence have been charged or indicted for insurance fraud.
Other efforts include:
# An Essex County special grand jury in September 2004 indicted 16 people, including lawyers, chiropractors and “runners” who recruit people for fraud.
# Brockton, Springfield/Holyoke, Lynn, Lowell and Boston have also formed task forces.
# Under a new law, the state’s Division of Licensure has an extra $266,000 to fight health-care fraud by chiropractors and physical therapists “`Although we were catching them they got a slap on the wrist,” Giardina said. “Now, it’s a felony. That’s enough to slap anyone into reality.”
Scams vary widely. Sometimes con artists in two cars crash at a prearranged location and everyone claims injuries. Other scammers buy junk cars for cheap, vandalize them, call police and try to collect insurance money.
Euclides Cardoso of Dorchester was convicted in March of vandalizing his own 1995 Jeep and filing a false report. Police caught onto him when they found out the Jeep didn’t even run, according to Plymouth County prosecutors. Cardosa received a year of probation and must repay $8,491 he received from his insurance company.
Keven Zegel, a Middleton chiropractor, was arraigned Wednesday in Salem Superior Court for allegedly pocketing $13,000 in insurance money for services prosecutors say he never performed.
The result of the new crackdown could be safer roads and cheaper insurance bills for Bay State drivers, said Glenn Cunha, chief of the insurance and unemployment fraud division in the attorney general’s office.
“One of the major reasons why our rates are raised or suggested to be raised every year is because of fraud,” Cunha said.