Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher on Thursday announced the arrests of 10 people in a staged accident ring that involved 15 different medical clinics fraudulently billing auto insurers more than a million dollars for non-existent injuries.
Those arrested are facing a range of felony charges from grand theft to organized fraud. Some of the suspects already reportedly have extensive criminal records. The National Insurance Crime Bureau assisted in the three-month investigation, and Miami-Dade Police Robbery Intervention Detail units assisted with the arrests.
Three of the participants in this ring were charged under a new law that became effective Oct. 1, 2003, and face a minimum two-year prison sentence and could be sentenced up to 15 years in prison under the new sanctions.
The suspected ringleader, Joaquin Noda Bellma, was arrested on 21 counts of insurance fraud, 21 counts of grand theft and three counts of organized scheme to defraud in the first degree. Noda Bellma has prior arrests for burglary, home invasion, vehicle theft and drugs and has served time in prison under different names. Nine others, ranging in age from 20 to 64, are charged with participating in the staged accidents.
Gallagher said the division is investigating more than a dozen staged accidents suspected of being related to this ring, and more arrests are anticipated.
Florida drivers are required to carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP coverage in addition to a minimum of $10,000 in property damage liability coverage. In staged accidents, the planners and organizers, usually in connection with unscrupulous clinic owners, target the PIP insurance of drivers and bill an average of $10,000 to each participant’s auto insurance company.
This ring has been connected with staged accidents on Oct. 12, 2002 that resulted in fraudulent claims totaling $562,193 ($33,598 paid); Jan. 2, 2003 that resulted in fraudulent claims totaling $402,002 ($38,002 paid); July 3, 2003 that resulted in fraudulent claims totaling $81,995 ($62,803 paid); Aug. 25, 2004, that resulted in fraudulent claims totaling $55,949 ($23,230 paid); and March 21, 2005, that resulted in fraudulent claims totaling $25,553.
The insurance companies who were billed are Direct General, the Florida Automobile Joint Underwriters Association, Republic Western, and State Farm.
Joaquin Noda Bellma (AKA El Gordo), 44, Miami – insurance fraud, 21 counts; grand theft, 21 counts; organized scheme to defraud, 3 counts.
Daisy Duranza, 42, Hialeah – insurance fraud, 6 counts; grand theft, 6 counts.
Roberto Duranza, 46, Hialeah – insurance fraud, 6 counts; grand theft, 6 counts.
Roberto Duranza, Jr., 24, Hialeah – insurance fraud, 6 counts; grand theft, 6 counts.
Olga Fernandez, 57, Opa-Locka – insurance fraud, 3 counts; grand theft, 3 counts; staged accident, 1 count.
Pedro Herrera, 64, Miami – insurance fraud, 17 counts; grand theft, 17 counts; staged accident, 1 count.
Heyllene Artemisa Jimenez, 32, Opa-Locka – insurance fraud, 3 counts; grand theft, 3 counts; staged accident, 1 count.
Carmen Mar Penarrieta, 42, Hialeah – insurance fraud, 5 counts; grand theft, 5 counts.
Lucy Ramos, 50, Miami – insurance fraud, 11 counts; grand theft ,11 counts.
Maria Rosa Silva, 20, Hialeah – insurance fraud, 16 counts; grand theft,16 counts.