Jan. 8--Two defendants tied to an insurance-fraud scheme that included Spokane developer Ron Wells were sentenced to federal prison Wednesday and ordered to pay restitution to help cover the cost of the insurance payouts.
Brittany J. Harris, 34, of Newport, and Michele L. Smith, 49, of Spokane Valley, each received sentences Wednesday from U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice following guilty pleas as part of a massive insurance fraud scheme that involved 22 defendants. Rice sentenced Harris to 13 months and Smith to 10 months as part of the same investigation.
"Insurance and health care fraud are serious crimes that affect society in the form of higher premiums," U.S. Attorney William Hyslop said in a news release. "Harris and Smith's fraudulent conduct also needlessly caused health care providers, emergency personnel and police officers to expend precious resources that otherwise could have been used to assist true victims."
Among the 22 defendants was Wells, who was named in 17 of the 101 counts of deliberately staging a "series of automobile, boating, stair fall, pedestrian/vehicle and other accidents" in Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California from 2013 to 2018.
In total, the group is alleged to have defrauded insurance companies of more than $6 million.
Wells originally was scheduled to be sentenced in December but that hearing was delayed to Feb. 5 after Wells underwent surgery in November. A call to Wells' attorney, Kevin Curtis, was not immediately returned Wednesday.
William O. Mize, who went by 18 aliases and is the suspected ringleader of the alleged fraud, apparently fled and as of August was listed as "not present and in fugitive status." Mize's status had not changed as of Wednesday, according to court records.
Two defendants who did not flee appeared before Rice, who ordered Harris to pay $135,000 in restitution for her role in the staged accidents that prompted the insurance claims. Rice also ordered Smith to pay $76,000 in restitution.
Smith was involved in two staged stair-fall accidents and one staged automobile accident in a parking lot that defrauded insurance companies out of $472,650. She pleaded guilty in May to one count of mail and wire fraud conspiracy and four counts of mail fraud.
Harris took part in five staged accidents, including two car collisions, one boating incident and two stair falls, that defrauded insurance companies out of $997,202, according to court records. She pleaded guilty in April 2010 to one count of healthcare fraud conspiracy, one count of mail and wire fraud conspiracy and two counts of mail fraud.
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