Florida law enforcement officers arrested 17 people and are seeking another eight individuals on fraud-related charges in "Operation Dark Horizon," the largest car insurance fraud bust in the state so far this year.
The 25 people charged, including a clinic owner, doctors, clinic employees and staged accident recruiters, are accused of participating in schemes to bilk insurance companies through fraudulent personal injury protection (PIP) claims. Together they face 142 various charges, including racketeering, staging an accident, insurance fraud, grand theft and organized scheme to defraud.
"This case is just one example of the hundreds of similar fraud schemes run daily by accident clinics operating throughout Florida," Florida CFO Jeff Atwater said in a press statement. "The fraud schemers bill insurance companies for procedures that never happen, and we all get stuck with the bill through increased auto insurance premiums."
A two-car Florida family pays an average of $100 a year to cover the cost of auto insurance fraud, according to a study by the Insurance Information Institute (III).
"If you multiply that by the 11 million cars in our state it amounts to a nearly billion dollar fraud tax," Atwater said in a statement.
Florida Division of Insurance Fraud investigators worked with special investigation units of insurance companies, including Gainsco, Imperial Fire & Casualty, Mercury Insurance, Geico and State Farm. The U.S. Secret Service Miami Electronic Crimes Task Force and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) also assisted. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle filed charges in the case.
Atwater's office said arrests stemmed from fraudulent billings filed by five clinics, including New Horizon Practice, Medico de la Familia, Coral Way Rehabilitation Services, Therapium Health Corp. and AB Diagnostic.
The case is part of a continuing crackdown on car insurance fraud in Florida. Tampa, Miami and Orlando are among the top five cities in the country for questionable medical claims associated with staged accidents, the NICB says.