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Merrimack Valley

September 4, 2013

An Accident Waiting to Happen: Fatal crash 10 years ago keeps saving millions for drivers

How the death of Altagracia Arias in staged crash helped crackdown on auto insurance fraud

(Continued)

The impact of the Lawrence task force on reducing fraud continues to draw national interest, too, according to Johnston.

“This year alone, the IFB has been asked to visit Maryland, Illinois, Michigan and even Australia. So, this effort has had wide-reaching impact,” he said.

Chasing the runners

Lawrence Police Sgt. Michael Simard, once the lead detective on the auto insurance fraud task force, traveled out-of-state several times with other investigators and the U.S. Marshals to track down runners who were hiding out in Allentown, Pa.; Tampa, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; and New York City.

“Once we got the runners, we knew we could tie in the professionals — lawyers and chiropractors. Without the professionals, there would be no staged accidents. They’re the ones who fueled them. But without the runners, the professionals would have been untouched. It was easy catching the crash test dummies who sat in the cars. It was a little harder going up the chain of command,” he said.

The troubles and expense of traveling across country to catch a runner was usually worth it, according to Simard.

Especially Carlos M. Pinales, who police found crying in a closet of his apartment in Allentown, Pa.

“We were able to flip Pinales and use him as a huge witness for the prosecution. His testimony was instrumental in convicting several attorneys and chiropractors,” Simard said. “The most satisfying part of the job for us was when we were able to convict the lawyers and the chiropractors. We knew our work was validated at that point because all those professionals think they are smarter than everyone else. But, we proved they weren’t. We proved they were just greedy.”

A politician keeps her promise

Former state Sen. Susan Tucker actually set the stage for insurance fraud crackdown by authoring laws that gave law enforcement agencies tougher weapons to fight fraudulent claims.

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