Volume 4 Number 24
June 15, 2007

‘Operation TGIF’ uncovers insurers billed $300,000 in staged Friday accidents

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the arrests of 27 people in an ongoing investigation into a staged accident ring that billed auto insurers more than $300,000 in fraudulent Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims.  The investigation was dubbed “Operation TGIF” because the staged accidents occurred on Fridays. 

The investigation began after fraud detectives from the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF), were interviewed on a Miami radio show and afterward a caller provided details regarding staged accidents.  The caller helped fraud detectives infiltrate the staged accident ring between December 2006 and April 2007.  Those arrested are charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and several are also charged with money laundering. 

“We do not take insurance fraud lightly, especially when so many people are conspiring to rip off Floridians,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department. “I commend all of the investigators for their hard work and thank the caller who provided the tip for having the courage to stand up for what is right.” 

Those arrested include Martin Triana, 45, owner of MTG Diagnostic Center; Triana’s wife Gisela Casuso, 33, manager of MTG Diagnostics; and Jimmy Suros-Corzo, 35, owner, and Aramys Lopez, 32, manager, of T&A Diagnostic Center, who allegedly recruited participants for the accidents and filed fraudulent insurance claims; and Gerardo Melenez, 47, a paralegal who often passed himself off as attorney Victor Careaga and coached participants on how to lie to insurance companies. The suspects could face additional charges under a Florida law that provides a mandatory minimum two-year prison sentence for staging an auto accident.  In addition to the arrests, search warrants were served at two clinics, an attorney’s office, and a home that served as the corporate address for two businesses.   

DIF was assisted in the investigation by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Secret Service and the North Miami Police Department.  The insurance companies defrauded in this investigation were 21st Century, Esurance, Geico, Met Life, Response, State Farm, Unitrin, Victoria Fire & Casualty, and AIG as well as Avis, Dollar and Hertz rental companies.  The insurance companies’ special investigations units (SIUs) were instrumental in the investigation, along with dedicated prosecutors Nina Vivenzio and Thomas Sadler, whose positions are provided through a partnership between DIF, the Florida Automobile Joint Underwriting Association and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office. Evangelina Brooks was DIF’s lead detective.

This case is part of a continuing crackdown by DIF, the insurance industry and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) to fight auto insurance fraud, which is estimated to cost the average Florida family as much as $240 a year.   

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 any suspected insurance fraud is asked to call the department's Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.