Accidental Tourist, Cruise Ship Don’t See Eye to Eye

November 11, 2004

Sometime in 1985, Brian Calen claimed he was blinded in his right eye by an accident on a cruise ship. Based on his insurance records, he was also blinded in shipboard accidents three times after that, New York prosecutors said.

It was the same eye each time. In 1992, Calen blamed a telescope; in 1997, a champagne bottle; in 2002, a flying disc.

“How does a guy get blinded again and again?” asked Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro.

Calen’s unlucky streak was good for more than $1 million in travelers’ insurance money, but the 48-year-old day trader from Dobbs Ferry was indicted this week on charges of insurance fraud and grand larceny.

He was accused of “attempting to collect insurance money by claiming that he was injured and lost sight in his right eye when he was already legally blind in that eye,” Pirro said. “He tried on three separate occasions to collect money and in fact did collect money on two occasions,” she added.

Calen was arraigned in County Court and was freed on $10,000 bail, the district attorney said. A call to his lawyer, Peter Goodrich, was not immediately returned. If convicted, Calen could be sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.

Pirro said that in 1992, Calen claimed that the blindness in his right eye was caused when he looked through a cruise ship’s telescope and the filter fell off, resulting in a solar burn. He had just taken out an insurance policy and collected $75,000, she said.

Pirro spokeswoman Anne Marie Corbalis said the policies Calen took out were the kind that cover losses during transportation on a common carrier and do not ordinarily require an examination in advance. The policies are sometimes triggered just by charging the trip on a credit card, she said.

In 1997, Calen collected $1 million after saying that the blindness was caused by an exploding champagne bottle on a cruise from Miami to South America, Pirro said. The district attorney said that Calen had actually broken the bottle and purposely injured his eye with the shards.

In 2002, he claimed he was blinded when he was hit by a flying disc during a Mississippi riverboat cruise with a Civil War theme, Pirro alleged. She said he filed for $500,000 in insurance money, but “an alert insurance investigator, apparently a former cop, was able to determine that this was the same guy who sued a few years earlier.”

The investigator reported his findings to the fraud bureau of the state’s Insurance Department, which contacted Pirro.

Corbalis said prosecutors could not be sure if the 1985 accident was real, or if there was an insurance claim, because records were old. They showed that a doctor found retinal damage.

Pirro said that if convicted, Calen will likely have to pay some money back.

“I’m sure that the second insurance company is going to sue to get the money back and this conviction, which I’m sure we’re going to get, is going to be the basis for them doing that,” she said.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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