June 15--Two members of a car crash ring that swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurers by intentionally driving cars into trees were convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges Thursday by a federal jury in New Haven.
Mackenzy Noze, 32, and Jonas Joseph, 33, were part of a group of Haitians who live in and around Norwich and who filed dozens of phony claims with a variety of insurers over five years after strikingly similar, staged crashes on remote roads in eastern Connecticut, according to evidence presented at their trial.
The automobiles, often expensive imports, were typically totaled. In one case, Noze is accused of buying a German import with a bad transmission, crashing it and settling with an insurer for thousands more than he paid for the car.
Usually, owners, drivers and passengers who filed claims were not in cars during crashes. But they were part of the conspiracy and filed claims for property damage and bodily injury, usually claiming to suffer from neck or back pain.
The staged crashes often took place within days of the owners buying insurance or adding coverage.
The ring initially hired lawyers to press claims against insurers, but decided they could press claims more expeditiously themselves and save the one-third contingency that most lawyers demand.
"The defendants then settled their claims quickly and for relatively low dollar amounts to induce the victim insurance companies to pay on the claims rather than investigate," federal prosecutors Avi Perry and Michael J. Gustafson wrote in a memo to the court.
The FBI uncovered evidence of about 50 staged crashes over five years beginning in April 2011, and presented evidence of 11 relatively unimaginative crashes at the trial. Twenty-nine people were purportedly involved in the 11 phony crashes, Perry told the jury. He said no one was ever hurt.
Perry told the jury in his closing argument that Noze crashed the cars in all 11 claims after identifying a suitable tree and charging it at about 30 mph. Noze was initially dissatisfied with the damage during a Killingly crash, so Perry said, he backed up and crashed into the tree two or three more times.
The drivers and passengers who would falsely claim to be injured in the crashes usually followed in a second car that Noze used to leave the scene before police were called.
Most of the 11 crashes were staged in Mohegan Park, a wooded area in Norwich and involved what one police officer called a "phantom deer." A couple of the 11 were blamed on bad weather. In one crash, Perry told jurors, Noze arranged for an accomplice to back a rental truck into his car.
In addition to charging Noze and Joseph, prosecutors filed conspiracy or fraud charges against Frandy Dugue, 40, of Norwich; Carlins Calixte, 33, of Norwich; Jacques Fleurijeune, 27, of New London and Pierre Jeidy, 57, of Norwich, all of whom previously pleaded guilty.
Noze, Dugue, Calixte, Fleurijeune and Jeudy are citizens of Haiti. Noze, Dugue, Calixte and Jeudy are lawful permanent residents of the U.S. All those charged, with the exception of Joseph, face deportation as a result of their convictions..
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