Auto insurance fraud ring brought down

LOS ANGELES - Two attorneys pleaded no contest last week for their alleged involvement in a large-scale auto insurance fraud ring that involved more than 300 people who collectively netted more than $450,000.Beverly Hills attorney Leon Rubin Laufer pleaded to one count of reckless disregard for accepting illegal referrals, a felony, prosecutors said. Stephen Marshall Weiss, an attorney in the San Fernando Valley, pleaded no contest to one felony count of insurance fraud. Laufer and Weiss were each sentenced to three years probation and ordered to perform 250 hours of community service. Under the terms of a negotiated settlement, Laufer and Weiss have jointly paid more than $145,000 in restitution to nine insurance companies that were defrauded through false claims for staged accidents. Of 80 people charged in connection with the case, 73 have pleaded and, to date, more than $540,000 has been collected in restitution, prosecutors said. Laufer and Weiss are believed to be associates of Alexander Gutman, of Sherman Oaks, who allegedly collected millions of dollars by staging some 2,600 "paper accidents" between November 2002 and January 2008 with the help of Van Nuys resident Laszlo Bango. Gutman and Bango were arrested in May 2008 by investigators for their involvement with a network of attorneys, chiropractors, doctors and body shops that worked together to process claims for bogus accidents. The arrests were the result of a 12-month automotive insurance fraud task force investigation dubbed "Operation Big Fish," involving 16 agencies. Ultimately, Gutman pleaded guilty in February 2009 to 15 counts of insurance fraud. He was expected to be sentenced this week. Bango pleaded guilty to four counts of insurance fraud. His sentence is pending, prosecutors said.

********** Published: February 24, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 45