Volume 2 Number 14
April 4, 2005










TEXT VERSION

 

 

EIGHT ARRESTED ON CHARGES OF ILLEGALLY OBTAINING CRASH REPORTS THROUGHOUT THREE COUNTIES

Several posed as reporters to gain access to the reports

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced that investigators with the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have arrested eight individuals on charges of illegally obtaining traffic accident reports from police departments throughout Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties.  Several posed as reporters to gain access to the reports.

The information was used to solicit accident victims to go to medical clinics and auto body shops for the purpose of collecting money on fraudulent auto insurance claims. The police departments involved are not suspected of any wrongdoing and supported the investigation.  In Florida, access to traffic accident reports is restricted during the first 60 days, and those who access the information cannot use or disclose the information for the purpose of solicitation. 

“This ongoing investigation indicates these individuals had no legitimate reason to possess the accident reports and that they intended to use the information to fraudulently bill insurance companies,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services and Division of Insurance Fraud.  “I thank the investigators for working so hard to protect Floridians from the burden of this kind of fraud.”  In the last two months, DFS investigators have arrested more than 50 individuals throughout Florida for various auto insurance fraud scams.  The department’s fraud division has arrested more than 900 individuals associated with $25 million in auto insurance fraud in the last five years. 

“These types of crimes victimize everyone and we all pay the price,” said Amos Rojas, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of FDLE in South Florida. “This kind of criminal activity will not be tolerated, and additional arrests are forthcoming.

Some of the individuals arrested today are facing as many as 70 counts of obtaining confidential crash reports, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, per count.

Several gained access to the confidential accident reports by pretending to work for media publications, such as Impact News Weekly, South Florida Journal and Greek American Herald.  Investigators said they saw Charles Raefield Rhodes, 58, receive bulk crash reports from his son, 22-year-old Courtney Gissendanner, at Rhodes’ Hollywood home, where he had several women making phone calls to solicit accident victims.

The investigation is continuing and further arrests are anticipated. 

Gallagher this year is supporting pending legislation that would impose a two-year minimum mandatory prison sentence for filing a fraudulent auto accident claim.  Sponsored by Rep. Dean Cannon (HB 967) and Sen. J.D. Alexander (SB 2330), the legislation would also require medical clinics to post the department’s Fraud Buster reward program hotline and information.  Gallagher is also asking the Legislature for funding for more PIP fraud investigators and prosecutors.

In 2003, the Legislature enacted some of the strongest laws against PIP fraud with the Florida Motor Vehicle Insurance Affordability Reform Act.  That legislation provided a two-year minimum mandatory prison sentence for staging, planning or assisting in the staging of an auto accident or soliciting patients for the purpose of filing fraudulent insurance claims.  More than 70 individuals are now serving or facing that sentence.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance.  Anyone with information about this case or another possible fraud scheme should call the department's Fraud Busters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Below is a list of the individuals arrested so far: 

Jose Manon, 60, 461 SW 112 Ave., Fort Lauderdale

Edward Phillips, 55, 101 S. Cortez Drive Circle North, Margate

Courtney T. Gissendanner, AKA Courtney Rhodes, AKA Courtney Washington, 22, 500 NW 24 Ave., Fort Lauderdale

Charles Raefield Rhodes, 58, 2718 Pierce St., Hollywood  

Kathi Rodriguez, 31, 371 NW 42 Ave., Coconut Creek

Thomas Vallorani, 56, of Tamarac

Marcus Sanford, 66, of Miami

Gadsden, Florida's fifth county, was formed in 1823. It once ran from Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Suwannee River to the Apalachicola River. Quincy, the county seat, was incorporated in 1828. The courthouse, above, was built in 1912.