Acting Attorney General Peter C. Harvey announced that four Essex County residents have been charged with conspiracy, official bribery, theft and Health Care Claims Fraud as part of an organized scheme to illegally obtain valid police accident reports in order to solicit victims to submit fraudulent insurance claims and to bribe an undercover police officer to fabricate accident reports.
According to Vaughn McKoy, Acting Director, Division of Criminal Justice and Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Greta Gooden Brown, two separate indictments were obtained via the State Grand Jury. The first indictment charges Rajauhn Sharrieff, 51, Birks Place, Newark; Shirley Jenkins, 51, N. 18th St., E. Orange; and her son Abdul Jenkins, 32, also of N. 18th St. with conspiracy (2nd degree), bribery in official matters (2nd and 3rd degree), and Health Care Claims Fraud (2nd degree). A second indictment charged Bernard Zeigler, 42, Prospect St., E. Orange, with conspiracy and Health Care Claims Fraud (2nd degree) and theft by deception (3rd degree). Crimes of the second degree carry a maximum penalty of up to ten years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. A crime of the third degree carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Additionally, Sharrieff, Shirley Jenkins, Abdul Jenkins, and Zeigler face the possibility of the imposition of civil insurance fraud fines pursuant to the Insurance Fraud Prevention Act.
The principal indictment alleges that from February through October, 1999, Sharrieff, Shirley Jenkins and Abdul Jenkins conspired to pay bribes to an East Orange police officer who was working in an undercover capacity for the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. The undercover investigation focused on allegations that persons were acting as “runners” on behalf of medical service providers to obtain automobile accident police reports. The police reports were then reviewed and the persons identified in the reports were solicited to become patients of certain medical service providers and to file Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance claims. The defendants would allegedly receive a portion of any insurance settlement or payment.
The indictment alleged that the defendants negotiated and paid the undercover police officer several hundred dollars for a genuine E. Orange Police Department automobile accident report. Specifically, it is alleged that Sharrieff solicited the undercover police officer to create at least one fictitious automobile accident report detailing a non-existent hit and run automobile accident that purportedly occurred on March 11, 1999 in which four persons, who were passengers in Sharrieff’s car, sustained injuries. As the result of the fictitious accident and fraudulent police report, a claim was submitted and the Colonial Penn Insurance Company paid Sharrieff more than $1,563 for “damage” to the automobile. It is also alleged that Colonial Penn Insurance Company paid approximately $15,000 to Zeigler to settle a “bodily injury” claim based, in part, on the phony accident report. Colonial Penn also paid more than $20,000 to 14 different medical providers for purported “treatment” rendered to Ziegler as a result of the “accident”. The investigation regarding the role of specific medical providers is ongoing.
In the insurance fraud world, a “runner” is a person paid by a medical service provider to procure patients for the medical practice so that insurance claims can be submitted to enhance payment and profits. New Jersey’s criminal “runners” statute became effective on July 12, 1999 and criminalized the use of “runners” by health care professionals and their employees as well as by other professionals such as attorneys.
The indictments were handed up to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek. The cases are assigned to the Essex County Superior Court for trial. The defendants will be ordered to appear for arraignment at a future date.
The investigation was coordinated by the Division of Criminal Justice – Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor which investigates and prosecutes civil and criminal insurance fraud cases. Supervising State Investigator Edward Buttimore, State Investigator Kristen Marcus, Civil Investigator James Rizio, and Deputy Attorneys General Steven Farman and Andrew Fried were assigned to the investigation. DAG Farman and Fried represented the Division of Criminal Justice – Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor before the State Grand Jury.
“These cases illustrate the serious potential for fraudulent insurance claims that runners pose to the insurance industry. In this case it is alleged that a runner would pay police officers for a genuine accident report so persons who might not otherwise file an insurance claim could be coerced to submit claims. Additionally, it is alleged that the runner then paid a police officer to create a totally fictitious accident report solely to support false insurance claims. This type of action seriously undermines the ability of insurance companies to provide service to legitimate customers,” said Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Brown.
Noting that some important cases have begun with anonymous tips from the public, Prosecutor Brown encouraged New Jerseyans concerned about insurance cheating and who have any information about a fraud to call the insurance fraud toll-free hotline at 1-877-55-FRAUD, or visit the insurance fraud Web site at www.NJInsurancefraud.org .
It should be noted that an indictment is merely an accusation. The defendants are presumed to be innocent of the charges unless and until the State proves them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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