8 worst scammers of 2016 chosen

A home explodes … hundreds of setup car crashes churn fake whiplash claims … a helpless cerebral palsy patient starves to death.

All to steal insurance money.

The year’s extreme schemers are among the eight worst insurance criminals of 2016. They were elected to the Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame by the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

The Shamers reveal the year’s most brazen, bungling or vicious convicted insurance swindlers.

Insurance fraud is one of America’s largest financial crimes. Scams steal at least $80 billion annually, and many insurers say fraud is growing. Many consumers believe it’s ok to inflate claims, and they’re at risk of committing this crime, research reveals.

Victims are traumatized, maimed, lose their savings and have their credit ruined. Some die.

Exploding home. Two neighbors were incinerated and an Indianapolis subdivision nearly leveled when Bob Leonard helped accidentally blow up a house in a botched $300,000 home arson. “Oh well, they died,” Leonard said of the next-door couple. Sentence: life without parole.

Faulty no-fault con. Michael Danilovich masterminded a $279-million attempted looting of auto insurers with hundreds of staged car crashes in the New York City area. It was the largest no-fault auto scam in U.S. history. Crooked medical providers deluged insurers with fake whiplash claims. Sentence: 25 years.

Deer deception. Mob associate Ron Galati used deer parts and blood to gore up cars and claim the vehicles crashed into deer. Galati’s Philadelphia body shop made $5 million of inflated damage claims from phantom deer and other collisions. He even took a sledgehammer to cars, and plotted to have a witness shot. Sentence: up to 29 years.

Lawless libido. John Alfonzo Smiley was shot and paralyzed while arguing with a couple after he and his wife swapped sex with them at a San Francisco swingers club. Smiley claimed $4 million of workers comp money. The corrections officer contended — with a straight face — that a former inmate with a grudge shot him. Sentence: eight months.

Samaritan scam. Shannon Egeland had his son shotgun him in the legs to scam his disability policy. Egeland’s legs were shattered and a foot amputated. He claimed he was ambushed after stopping to help a stranded pregnant motorist near Caldwell, Idaho late one night. Sentence: awaiting jail term.

Killer caregiver. Makayla Norman was a cheerful 14-year old — and bedridden with cerebral palsy. The Dayton teen’s home caregiver Mollie Parsons starved her to death while making large Medicaid claims for supposedly steady care. Makayla weighed 28 pounds. Sentence: 10 years.

Baby murdered. Moussa Sissoko shook his infant son Shane to death for $750,000 of life insurance he took out on the baby. The Washington, D.C.-area man seemed like a caring father, yet plotted Shane’s death from the start. Sentence: 50 years.

Mental error. Dr. Fernando Mendez-Villamil made $60 million in false Medicare and Medicaid claims for mental-illness drugs. The Miami physician plied patients with powerful drugs whether or not they needed the meds. Insurance fraud bought him a mansion and art collection. Sentence: 12 years.

Fortunately, a small army of fraud fighters is committed to turning the corner on this crime. Most insurers have agile investigators, and so do most states. Technology even can predict some scams. And most Americans are honest.

Progress is being made. Yet the insurance money’s too good and attracts too many scammers for easy answers. As the Shamers show us, sometimes a cold jail cell is the best deterrent.

About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Will election changes boost anti-fraud efforts?

The late David Bowie sang about “ch-ch-ch-ch-changes” in his memorable rock song. This theme could define anti-fraud legislation in 2017.

A new year always brings aspirations for success. Same with fraud fighters seeking new state laws clamping down on insurance swindlers.

Several statehouses are opening this week, and anti-fraud bills already are being docketed for debate. All amid many ch-ch-ch-ch-changes in leadership this big election year.

New state legislatures, governors and insurance commissioners have taken office. A new U.S. president and Congress could change the face of anti-fraud efforts. We’re watching closely for signals on how they’ll fund scam-busting programs for Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid.

The anti-fraud community needs to help policymakers see that their constituents benefit greatly from robust, well-funded anti-fraud efforts.

So here’s our bucket list for 2017:

  • Michigan finally creates a state insurance-fraud authority to go after widespread auto fraud rings in the state;
  • New York’s legislature sets aside turf wars to clamp down on staged-crash rings and shady contractors; and
  • Congress and the Administration properly fund the Healthcare Fraud Prevention Partnership. It has saved hundreds of millions of dollars by uncovering scams against private health insurers and taxpayer-funded health programs such as Medicare. And that’s just the beginning.

Other states will take up the call for stronger anti-fraud laws as well. The Coalition will work with our partners to get those laws onto the books.

We’re on board — will you be?

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.