April 06-- Apr. 6--Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro sent a message Friday to anyone who thinks they can get away with lying to pocket an insurance check: We're going to catch you.
State prosecutors from the Western Regional Office have charged 25 people in a far-reaching insurance fraud sweep during February and March, Shapiro said.
The cases span fraud charges related to false claims filed with car insurance agents, life insurance companies, rental insurers and disability offices.
Six people were charged for incidents that involved actually hitting -- or lying about hitting -- deer.
Among the accused offenders:
--Chantal Hayden, 27, of Pittsburgh said she struck a deer and hit a guardrail, then later admitted that she hit the guard rail when she was driving while intoxicated, a criminal complaint said.
--Wesley Martz, 22, of Greensburg reported that his motorcycle was submerged in water and badly damaged from flooding at his townhouse on Sept. 10. His policy had lapsed, but he renewed it the same day, then tried to report the water damage as happening the next day, the complaint said.
--Elijah Yarbrough, 23, of Houston, Texas reported striking a deer along Interstate 79 in Canonsburg shortly before 11 p.m. on Nov. 4, 2018, and was informed during the same call that deer strikes were not covered under his liability insurance. Four minutes later, he called to buy a comprehensive and collision coverage policy. Seventeen minutes later, he reported that he had just struck a deer, the complaint said.
Shapiro said the charges represent some of "the most common types of insurance fraud."
The fraudulent settlement payments received range from $1,500 to more than $6,000.
Shapiro said such fraud hurts all Pennsylvanians because "it inflates rates and causes all of us to pay more."
"It's wrong, and my Insurance Fraud Section is taking action to stop it," Shapiro said in a statement. "We will aggressively prosecute anyone who breaks the law by providing false information to an insurance company."
The majority of individuals charged this week are from Western Pennsylvania, with a handful from other states, including West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Texas and Florida.
The individuals charged include:
--Marie Rodriguez, 38, of Downtown Pittsburgh suffered injuries when she was side-swiped by a tractor-trailer along Interstate 90 in New York in February 2018, a complaint states. She received $4,000 in an insurance settlement after claiming lost wages during her recovery. She told the insurer that she made $6,500 a month working at Urban Design Associates at PPG Place in Downtown Pittsburgh -- but the company told investigators she has never worked there, according to the complaint. Rodriguez said she would take out a loan to repay the insurer.
--Stefan Sweeney, 30, of Washington, Pa. is accused of lying about when an accident happened that involved his vehicle at his work site at an oil and gas company in Bridgeport, Ohio. Photo evidence shows that the accident happened about 10 minutes before he bought a new insurance policy, the complaint said.
--Kim Page, 44, of McKeesport told her insurer that her car was damaged in a hit-and-run in October, but investigators later captured video footage of her car in Monroeville with the same damage in April 2018, six months before she filed the claim, the complaint said.
--Katherine Yova, 37, of Slippery Rock is accused of lying on insurance forms when asked if any driver or household member had been arrested for any reason, the complaint said. Yova, who received $2,800 in a damage settlement from a single-car accident, has been arrested about 30 times in the past 15 years and convicted on 15 offenses.
--Rico Collins, 48, of Blairsville, Indiana County, filed a renter's claim for jewelry, cash, CDs, DVDs and an R&B record collection that he reported stolen from his apartment while he was out of town. He estimated the value at about $25,000. The insurer paid him $11,209 and asked for receipts. He submitted fake receipts that suggested he had paid $7,200 for his record collection and $2,657 for 188 DVDs, the complaint said.
--Kelly Varner, 43, of Boswell is accused of purchasing a comprehensive car insurance policy hours after her husband struck a deer on his way to work.
--Amhed Al-Quraishi, 30, of Erie filed an August car accident claim for damage that happened before he bought his vehicle in July.
--Ryan Futchko, 26, of Mount Pleasant is accused of lying about the time of a car accident outside the Village Pizza Shop on Main Street in Mount Pleasant. Futchko reported the accident about 7:50 p.m. on June 1, and was told his claim would be denied. At 8:22 p.m., he bought a new policy with a different insurer, then reported the accident to the new insurer as having happened at 8:30 p.m. The shop owner recalled the accident happening closer to 6 p.m., the complaint said.
--Levi Logsdon, 26, of Hyndman is accused of lying to car insurance agents about the date an accident happened in an attempt to help his girlfriend pay for the damage to her car after she struck a deer along Route 96 and had only liability coverage. Makayla Mock, 22, of Bedford, Logsdon's girlfriend, also is charged for filing false reports in the deer incident.
--Lewis Bentley, 43, of Meadville is accused of lying about who was driving a car during a February 2018 accident because the person driving was an "excluded driver," per his policy.
--Victoria Neal, 48, of Linesville is accused of filing false disability claims -- including forging a doctor's signature -- so her life insurance company would cover her loan payments.
--Aaron Gillin, 44, of Johnstown filed a claim for more than $26,000 in lost wages using the forged signature of a contractor who denied hiring him to work on a rental property job that he claimed he lost because of a car accident injury.
--Alan Talarico, 51, of Moon Township is accused of forging disability forms to get life insurance benefits to cover his monthly loan payments.
--Sandra Burd, 58, of Follansbee, W. Va. is accused of lying about the time of an Oct. 22 car accident involving two deer in Washington. Burd's policy had lapsed because of nonpayment, so she called the insurer and paid what she owed by phone while still at the scene of the accident, then falsely reported the accident as happening the next morning, the complaint said.
--Sabrina Yovich, 23, of Waterford is accused of buying a car insurance policy on Oct. 3 at 4:22 p.m. -- five minutes after police received a report of a four-car accident along Interstate 79 involving her vehicle. She later admitted to not having an insurance policy in place at the time of the crash, the complaint said.
Additional individuals accused of lying about the time of an accident, then obtaining coverage and attempting to file a claim later, include: Tonya Prowell, 34, of New Castle; Tyler Collins, 25, of Lake Milton, Ohio; and Victor Velez, 38, of Indiana, Pa.; Russell May, 29, of Ebensburg; Taran Beckett, 24, of McDonald; and Beatrice Elias-Ausi, 26, of Jacksonville, Fla.
The Attorney General's Office has charged 452 people with insurance fraud since Shapiro took its helm in January 2017.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .
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