One of the biggest Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud rings is no more, thanks to the hard work of a person who does a great job without making headlines.
Ann Marie Villafana, assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, has been the lead prosecutor in Operation Sledgehammer, a multi-year effort to break up a criminal ring that staged auto accidents and then worked with others to collect fraudulent PIP claims.
Villafana has charged 101 suspects and obtained convictions that have resulted in 714 years in prison for the defendants and the repayment of more than $18 million. And she is not yet done going after the bad guys.
Her tireless effort has won her the Prosecutor of the Year award from the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.
“Drivers in South Florida should be relieved. Breaking up a significant no-fault crash ring has made the roads of Palm Beach County safer. Villafana has stemmed a large-scale insurance theft that helped make no-fault premiums among the highest in America,” Dennis Jay, executive director of the Coalition, said in a statement.
Villafana received her award in a ceremony at the coalition’s annual member meeting in Washington. She collaborated with the FBI, IRS, Secret Service, Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud and Palm Beach County state attorney’s office in building cases that led to 92 people being charged in federal and state court.
Villafana was a newcomer to fighting PIP fraud. She had to learn about no-fault and insurance fraud; she prepared so well that dozens of defendants plead guilty rather than go to trial.
They were part of a group that staged low-speed auto crashes in which no one was injured. Sometimes, the accident organizers made the damage look worse by striking cars with sledgehammers, which is the how the investigation got its name.
Accident participants filed false police reports and injury claims. Criminal organizers directed the individuals to medical providers that were part of the PIP fraud conspiracy. Chiropractors and other medical providers filed millions of dollars worth of PIP claims for treatments that were either not needed or not given. Attorneys who were part of the criminal ring sued auto insurers to ensure payment.