A federal grand jury here is investigating an areawide automobile insurance fraud scheme involving allegedly false claims filed by several doctors, lawyers, police officers and insurance adjusters, according to court records and investigative sources.
Some of the claims were filed by attorneys on behalf of uninjured automobile accident victims whose names were provided by police officers in return for cash payments or other gifts from the lawyers, investigators said. The claims have cost insurance companies "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in inflated or false payments, investigators asserted.
Disclosure of the widespread inquiry came yesterday as the first person charged in the probe, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Zollie Richburg, was sentenced to five years' probation. The court also ordered Richburg to pay back about $30,000 to a local bar fund that was used to pay off the clients he defrauded.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William D. Pease of the fraud division had asked U.S. District Judge George L. Hart Jr. to impose a "substantial" prison sentence on Richburg, and explained what he described as the operation of the larger fraud scheme in his request for the severe sentence.
According to the document filed by Pease, the scheme for the most part worked this way:
Persons who had been involved in automobile accidents would come to various attorneys, including Richburg, voluntarily or be referred to them by a group of "runners." These runners usually would be cab drivers or police officers who would bring in clients in exchange for $50 or $100 in cash or for an expensive night of entertainment, according to investigators.
Richburg and other attorneys would then submit to insurance companies claims that bore "little or no relationship to the actual damages suffered" by the clients, Pease continues.
For example, claims would be submitted for medical bills that had never been incurred, and clients who had been to a doctor only once or twice were reported to have been seen or treated by doctors as many as dozen times, Pease said.
"In some instances, these claims were supported by doctors who knowingly participated for profit in the defendant's scheme," Pease added.
Some clients would be aware of the false and inflated claims while others were unaware of the claims being made in their names, according to the investigators.
Even when inflated claims were presented for clients, they would receive only a small portion of the settlement, the court paper asserted. In some cases, Richburg would forge the name on the checks and keep all the money himself, and may have realized as much as $50,000 to $70,000 in that matter, Pease added.
Pease called Richburg's activities "brazen and reprehensible" and said the scheme was used solely to "feed his own greed and gratify an extravagant life style at the expense of his clients."
Richburg, 36, voluntarily resigned from the bar in November 1976 shortly before he was indicted on fraud charges. He fled the Washington area and was a fugutive for more than a year before turning himself in to autjorities and pleading guilty to three fraud counts.
Prosecutors said Richburg could be "an important valuable asset" to the investigation of the "vicious and ongoing pattern of insurance fraud on the part of lawyers, doctors, insurance adjusters and 'runners'," if he cooperates with the probe.
Richburg's activities came to light through an initial investigation by the Insurance Crime Prevention Institute into possible insurance fraud in the Washington area, investigators said.
Richburg's attorney, Barry W. Levine, said his client had come face-to-face with the "stark reality of what he did to himself" and that he had matured and gone through a "personal renaissance" that allowed him to plead guilty.
"This is a man who had made serious mistakes in the past and is asking for a future," Levine said.
Hart said Richburg's crimes were inexcusable, "especially from a former assistant U.S. attorney and member of the bar.
But, Hart said, Richburg came back to Washington to face the charges and "stood up like a man. He didn't cry discrimination or unfair prosecution." In addition, Hart said, he did not believe Richburg would commit anu other crimes.
The three specific charges against Richburg dealth with a $2,600 claim he filed for a client and then forged the payment, another incident in which he falsely claimed that a client had missed work at a location where he was not employed and the filing of claims for medical work that was never done.