Virginia's Fraud Fighters receive recognition

Fifteen Virginia “Fraud Fighters” were recently recognized by the Virginia State Police (VSP) Insurance Fraud Program (IFP) during the Virginia Chapter of the International Association of Special Investigation Units (VA IASIU) Annual Fraud Seminar in Richmond. The Fraud Fighters Award was established in 2005 by the IFP to recognize those individuals who set the standard for fighting insurance fraud in Virginia.

Nominees for the Fraud Fighters Awards came from the Virginia insurance industry, the law enforcement community and the commonwealth’s attorneys. The awards were based on the nominees’ contributions to the Virginia insurance industry anti-fraud efforts, which included their involvement and contribution to investigations; prevention and proactive activities; enforcement; interaction with the insurance community; and financial impact by recoveries and restitution resulting from their fraud-fighting efforts.

The recipients of the 2014 Fraud Fighters Award are:

SCC Bureau of Insurance (BOI) Senior Investigator Linwood Bennett Jr. Bennett’s investigation in to the fraudulent dealings of an insurance agent in Cumberland, Va., resulted in pleas of guilty to three felony charges. The crooked insurance agent was sentenced to two years for one count of Forgery, two years for one count of Uttering and two years for one count of Obtaining Money by False Pretenses, and was ordered to make full restitution of more than $140,000.

VSP Insurance Fraud Senior Special Agent Terence P. Collins played an important role in bringing a twice-convicted fraudster to justice. The fraudster in this case was filing false vehicle accident claims and false medical claims. He also stole the identity of a doctor and created false medical records. Collins obtained a total of 54 state warrants for this crook including Obtaining Money by False Pretense and identity theft. Consolidation of the investigation with the FBI and the VSP resulted in federal charges of aggravated identity theft and two counts of wire fraud. He was convicted in federal court, sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to pay restitution.

These Virginia Fraud Fighters brought a Nottoway County preacher to justice for defrauding Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance Company. Sergeant Robert Jones, Nottoway County Sheriff’s Office, responded to a complaint about missing insurance funds from Poplar Lawn Baptist Church in Blackstone. Virginia Farm Bureau investigators Carla Keesee and Jamie Walker reviewed all of the insurance claims and VSP Senior Special Agent Chris Palicia followed the accounting trail. Working with the Farm Bureau Claims Department and the Nottoway Sheriff’s Office, the State Police obtained enough facts to help Nelson Fisher, Dinwiddie County’s Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney serving as a special prosecutor in Nottoway, bring the case to justice. Virginia Farm Bureau Investigator Jamie Walker received the Investigator of the Year Award for his efforts.

Patty Reynolds, a special investigator with Alfa Alliance Insurance Corp. for the past 12 years, was recognized for her contributions to fighting fraud. Reynolds’ background includes six years in law enforcement, then 28 years working for insurance companies as a fraud special investigator across Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. She is an active member of the fraud fighting community, holding several different certifications. While it certainly is never the intent of any fraud investigator to avoid legitimate claims and/or simply “save” money, Patty’s fraud investigations have consistently resulted in over $500,000 of loss reserves not being paid annually due to fraudulent acts by policy holders. Reynolds’ claim investigations run the gambit from total house fires to rate evasion, inflated inventories, inflated injury claims, application misrepresentations and agency examinations. She is fiercely loyal to the insurance industry and the fraud mission of educating companies, agencies and the public to the perils of fraud, while ferociously fighting fraud at all levels to ensure law-abiding consumers are not paying increased premiums to cover frauds. She initiated and drove her company’s effort to include an anonymous fraud reporting mechanism on our website that has resulted in multiple referrals to sister companies.

The efforts of Investigator Derrick McKenzie, an investigator with the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office, led to an arrest for an attempted insurance fraud scheme. The fraudster claimed more than $9,000 worth of farm-related equipment was stolen from his place in Sussex County. He interviewed the suspect’s ex-wife and other witnesses and other possible suspects. McKenzie also checked the ex-wife’s garage and found some of the items he claimed were stolen. They had been placed there before the Date of Loss. As a result, Virginia Farm Bureau cancelled the policy and the fraudster was arrested and charged with an Attempt to Obtain Money by False Pretense and making a False Report to Law Enforcement. The case is going to trail late May.

Investigator Chris Hudson with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office was called by Virginia Farm Bureau to investigate what appeared to be a theft of personal items including scheduled jewelry on the policy, some electronics, money and a camera. Farm Bureau’s investigator and Hudson both agreed the insured’s story was the same when questioned independently, and she was paid $15,877.76. The following day Hudson was contacted by her 11-year-old son who found the missing items in the trunk of her car. Investigator Hudson charged the suspect with felony Obtaining Money by False Pretense and misdemeanor Making a False Report. She was found guilty of Obtaining Money by False Pretense and sentenced to 10 years – suspended – and supervised probation for two years. She also has to make restitution in the amount of $15,877.76.

These next two individuals, MetLife Senior Investigator Lee Rockey and Newport News Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mark McKinney, brought a staged accident ring to an inglorious end. Rockey contacted Virginia State Police with information regarding a possible staged accident ring he uncovered while conducting interviews about an auto loss claim. The VSP investigation revealed these same individuals were also making claims to Progressive Insurance. After conducting numerous interviews, ten individuals were charged with a combined 43 felonies for insurance fraud in the City of Newport News. The individuals charged were staging accidents and then visiting emergency rooms with fabricated injuries to generate medical bills. They made false claims to insurance companies and divided the insurance settlements among the members. Rockey, by being so persistent in his interviews and working with law enforcement during the investigation, made these prosecutions possible and successfully brought the beginning of the end to this staged accident ring. McKinney handled the prosecution of this case. The fraudsters were charged with a combined 43 felonies. McKinney prosecuted each defendant separately and obtained guilty findings against all charged – bringing an end to the livelihood of these career criminals.

Sometimes there’s a different take on insurance fraud in the far southwest corner of Virginia. In 2013, Virginia Farm Bureau received a claim on 17 steers struck by lightning; and the claim was documented by the veterinarian on the scene. The claim was assigned to Farm Bureau Investigator Todd Jones and a referral was made to Virginia State Police. The case was assigned to Senior Special Agent Wayne Isaac. Just weeks before the lightening event, the cattle’s owner increased coverage on each animal, which made the claim total $21,679. He also stated he pre-sold the animals for $21,679. Investigation revealed no lightning strikes in the area and the vet’s report was fraudulent. The insured was contacted and interviewed. During the interview, the insured withdrew his claim, and said the animals died over the winter. The insured had provided the vet with ear tags and animal weights, and he said the vet did not perform a necropsy or examine the steers in any way. When contacted for an interview, the vet said he inspected all 17 animals and all died while standing under a tree struck by lightning. He went on to provide false details about each animal. The vet pleaded guilty to attempting to Obtain Money by False Pretense and was sentenced to six months unsupervised probation. The insured goes to trial for Obtaining Money by False Pretense in June.

The Insurance Fraud Program of the Virginia State Police was established January 1, 1999, through legislation approved by the General Assembly. The program’s mission is to address the growing crime of insurance fraud in Virginia by conducting thorough professional insurance fraud investigations; by providing insurance fraud training for law enforcement personnel; and by increasing citizen awareness and cooperation through educational and rewards programs.