The assembly line began at the site of staged accidents and ended in the wallet of a Naples chiropractor. The factory churned out more than $100,000 of fraudulent billings for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims for four years until authorities shut down the operation. The ringmaster is scheduled for trial this month.
A Collier County jury has found chiropractor Esmaeel Samaliazad, 49, guilty of guilty of organized scheme to defraud, insurance fraud involving more than $20,000 and insurance fraud involving less than $20,000.
“It basically was a fraud factory and they paid people to actually be patients,” prosecutor Michael Anthony Pica was quoted by the Naples Daily News as telling jurors during his summation. “(Patients) were paid, they staged an accident and then they didn’t receive treatments. This was a very corrupt clinic.”
As in some cases involving PIP fraud, Samaliazad wasn’t the mastermind. Prosecutors say Feghen Delva, 44, a chiropractic assistant, set up Cardinal Chiropractic Center in July 2008 and paid Samaliazad and another chiropractor a monthly fee to be straw owners to avoid state licensing requirements. Samaliazad worked in Naples two days a week, while also working at Delva’s clinic in Fort Myers.
The deal was a good one for Samaliazad. He earned more than $100,000 for basically looking the other way while the clinic committed fraud, Pica told jurors. They agreed and found him guilty on multiple accounts; he faces up to 15 years in a state prison on the top offense and five years each for the others.
Here’s how the fraud worked, according to published reports:
Delva hired recruiters to find Hispanic drivers to crash into vehicles in which Haitians were passengers. Delva paid the Haitians $2,000 each for agreeing to undergo 40 treatments, only some of which they received. Chiropractors and massage therapists, including James Greenhut, sometimes double-billed for treatments. Patient recruiter Guerold Dolcine acted as a lookout outside the clinic, watching for insurance and government inspectors.
After being alerted by a receptionist, the Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud, the Office of the Attorney General, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Geico and Direct General began investigating. They arrested five people in May 2012. Greenhut, 54, pleaded guilty. Dolcine, 38, pleaded guilty in November to obtaining more than $50,000 by fraud and was sentenced to time served in county jail.
Delva and office manager Marie Stephania Zamy, 28, face grand theft charges; Delva faces a money laundering charge in their joint trial scheduled for March.