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14 Arrested in Alleged Vehicle Accident Scam

Crime: Officials say 11 crashes were faked to collect an estimated $250,000 in insurance money. A Van Nuys lawyer is among those charged.

June 24, 1998|SCOTT GLOVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Van Nuys lawyer was among 14 people arrested Tuesday in connection with an alleged scam in which participants staged auto accidents and faked injuries to collect insurance money, authorities said.

Attorney Inna Elana Gofman was arrested by FBI agents who searched her law office in the 6300 block of Van Nuys Boulevard, said Special Agent Jan Caldwell, spokeswoman for the bureau's San Diego field office.

Irma Elizabeth Palacios, a paralegal in Gofman's office, and another Los Angeles man who was allegedly a "passenger" in one of the staged wrecks, were also arrested, Caldwell said. All three were charged with mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

The arrests cap a three-year investigation--code-named "Twisted Metal"--by the FBI, California Department of Insurance, San Diego Police Department and other agencies.

Officials said 11 accidents had been staged, and injuries faked to collect an estimated $250,000 in insurance payments.

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In addition to Gofman, three chiropractors, two paralegals and a physical therapist were arrested in the probe. The majority of the arrests were made in San Diego, where the alleged scam was based.

"Today's action brings to a halt one of San Diego's largest staged auto accident rings," Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush said in a prepared statement. "These lawbreakers have been taken off the street and as a result they won't be generating additional costs in fraudulent auto insurance claims for California consumers."

Officials said the investigation relied heavily on undercover agents who infiltrated the alleged fraud ring. Working closely with the subjects of the investigation, the undercover operatives planned and executed the staged accidents, and then secretly taped the suspects talking about how the scheme was conducted, officials said.

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