The death of a man in a Glendale doctor's office appears to be part of an elaborate $2.8-million embezzlement and insurance fraud scheme that has authorities in two states hunting for two businessmen who have vanished.
The recent discovery by Glendale police that the dead man is not who his business partner and a doctor said he was has prompted the Los Angeles County coroner to reopen the case and triggered an investigation by the fraud bureau of the state Department of Insurance.
Glendale neurologist Richard P. Boggs, who Glendale police said is not suspected of wrongdoing, had identified the dead man as Melvin E. Hanson, a 46-year-old businessman from Columbus, Ohio. Boggs told authorities during routine questioning after the April 16 death that he had known Hanson for seven years, Police Sgt. Dean Durand said.
The next day, John B. Hawkins, Hanson's business partner and beneficiary of $1 million in life insurance policies on Hanson, came to Glendale from Columbus, identified the body as that of Hanson and ordered it cremated.
An autopsy report said the man's death was caused by an inflammation of the heart, coroner's spokeswoman Pat Smith said. A toxicology report showed that his blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the level to be considered legally drunk in California.
Authorities said they saw no reason to question the dead man's identity because two credit cards and a photocopy of a birth certificate in his wallet also identified him as Melvin E. Hanson, Durand said.
It was not until July that a Glendale police officer, talking with an insurance company agent, began to suspect that the dead man was not Hanson, Durand said.
That officer requested Hanson's driver's license photo from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. When it arrived, his suspicions were confirmed--the photo and the thumbprint on Hanson's license did not match those of the dead man.
"Until then, it was just like a normal death," Durand said.
Boggs told The Times that Hawkins--who at one time was also a patient--introduced the man to him as Hanson. Boggs said that on the day of the man's death, the man called his office and left a message on Boggs' answering machine.
"He said he had been drinking heavily," Boggs said. "He said he had to see me; it was urgent. He said he had terrible chest pressure." Boggs said he gave the tape to investigating officers.
Boggs said his patient told him shortly before his death that he was feeling a "tremendous amount of stress" from his business. Boggs said the man, who told him he had moved from Los Angeles to Columbus in 1986, would stop by his office for annual checkups while on business trips.
"I'm just somewhat amazed at the whole thing," Boggs said. "I frankly would like to know what's been going on."
According to Glendale police reports, Boggs said he left the man that he said was Hanson in his examination room for a moment, heard a "thump" and found him on the floor. Boggs said he tried to call the 911 emergency line but got a busy signal. Meanwhile, he told officers, he gave the man cardiopulmonary resuscitation for 25 minutes. By the time he got through to paramedics, the man was dead, he said.
Durand said it is unlikely that Boggs received a busy signal when he called 911. He said the emergency number "has been busy twice since we had it in four years."
Durand said Boggs is not a suspect because Glendale investigators have no evidence that the doctor knew the dead man was not Hanson when he reported the death. If the dead man can be identified, detectives will "pursue anything that may develop," he said.
"Maybe, when we find out who the dead guy is, we can connect him to Boggs or Hanson," Durand said. "But, right now, we got zip."
Police in Columbus said they are in a similar predicament.
Believes Hanson Is Alive
Detective James Lanfear of the Columbus Police Department's Organized Crime Bureau said he thinks that Hanson is alive and sharing the life insurance profits plus $1.8 million that police think Hawkins embezzled from a foundering chain of specialty athletic-wear shops, owned by Hanson and Hawkins.
The business, called Just Sweats, is shared with a third partner who does not appear to be involved in the alleged scam, Lanfear said.
"Hanson is alive," Lanfear said. "He's somewhere in his Gucci shoes."
Lanfear said creditors have filed a number of lawsuits against the company for unpaid bills, which brought an investigation that revealed the alleged embezzlement. Hawkins also disappeared. Police found his abandoned 1974 Mercedes-Benz at the Columbus airport in mid-July.
"He was in such a hurry he forgot to put the top on," Lanfear said. "The drought broke, and it seemed like all the rain fell in his car, which has since been impounded."
The company was founded in 1986 and expanded from one store to 11 in a matter of months, Lanfear said.
"It did seem as if they were trying to expand overnight. . . . They might have overextended themselves," he said.
In the meantime, Lanfear said, his agency is attempting to find Hawkins and Hanson.
"All the business shenanigans aside, we certainly want to talk to them," he said.