Calif. Attorney Sentenced Two Years in Insurance Scam

March 14, 2007

An attorney who stole nearly $400,000 in insurance refunds from his doctor clients and then tried to cover his tracks by faking bank statements and kiting checks was sentenced to two years in prison.

Michael Suverkrubbe, an attorney and former Internal Revenue Service investigator, pleaded guilty in September to money laundering and conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan ordered Suverkrubbe and his assistant, Wendy Lee Hixson, to jointly pay $390,000 in restitution.

Hixson, who also pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

According to the plea agreement, Suverkrubbe and Hixson worked until June 2004 with a San Diego company called Xelan, Inc., which sold supplemental disability insurance policies to 2,800 U.S. doctors on behalf of a Barbados firm called Doctors Benefit Insurance Co.

Xelan and DBIC told doctors who purchased the policies that their premiums were tax deductible, but the IRS disagreed and accused DBIC of operating a Ponzi scheme in a civil lawsuit in San Diego in October 2004. As part of settlement negotiations with the IRS, the companies agreed to refund doctors’ insurance premiums.

Suverkrubbe and Hixson told clients to put 8 percent of the returned money into a lawyers’ trust account. They spent the money on themselves.

“He promised he would handle everything for them,” said Kenneth Hines, the special agent in charge of the San Diego IRS field office.

Suverkrubbe’s attorney, Michael Berg, said his client’s inside knowledge of the IRS didn’t affect the scheme.

“It didn’t give him any special skill,” Berg said. “This wasn’t a sophisticated thing — it just provided easy, quick sums of money.”

Berg said his client had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was suffering from a cocaine addiction in the wake of a tumultuous divorce at the time of the fraud.

John Ellis, a federal public defender representing Hixson, did not return a call left seeking comment.

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