JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lies and deceit by others can mean your hard earned money is being ripped right from your wallet. Florida’s insurance fraud is mounting and you’re paying for it. Everywhere from doctors’ offices to our roadways, crooks are finding ways to make big bucks at your expense.
The I-TEAM uncovered local cases that show how this growing problem is adding up to millions of stolen taxpayer dollars all across Florida.
We obtained surveillance video from the US Department of Justice of Army veteran and Lake City resident Crystel Riedling at Disney World. Investigators says the 44-year-old lied to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In the hidden video taken by undercover agents, Riedling uses her right arm at the theme park over and over again. She claimed 100-percent disability on her right arm for more than six years, collecting nearly $304,000 in disability payments from VA. It was one piece of evidence federal prosecutors used to prove their disability fraud case against her.
The I-TEAM was at federal court in April for her sentencing, after being found guilty by a jury. Prosecutors argued the government theft would have continued to this day it if had not been exposed by a tip from Riedling’s physicians.
She faced up to 15 years in federal prison, but citing her decorated military service and her family’s pleas for mercy, the judge didn’t see a need for jail time. The judge ruled she is disabled — just not 100 percent as she claimed — and sentenced Riedling to 3 years of supervised probation and 6 months home detention.
Riedling and federal prosecutors refused to speak with us on camera, but Marshall Boykin with Boykin Associates Investigative Agency did.
“To a lot of people, it’s a quicker way to get paid,” said Boykin.
He provided us video evidence of his own similar investigations of worker compensation and disability fraud over the past two years. He says the people he caught on video show no signs of the disabilities they claim to have.
“I’ve seen subjects claiming they are injured, but they are walking around the house. Before they go to appointments, they put on their injury braces, that’s what we call them,” he explained.
Nationwide in 2015, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s most recent statistics, $60 billion in taxpayer money was lost to fraud waste, abuse and improper payments. Authorities were able to recover only $3.5 billion meaning there was a national loss of nearly $57 billion dollars.
As for Florida in 2015, more than $2 billion ($2,190,967,801) was lost to fraud, waste and abuse. The health care company Medic FP estimates Floridians lost more than a $5 million a day to health care, Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
Another fraud that’s damaging your bottom line as a taxpayer directly for years is insurance fraud — and it’s happening in many different forms.
One in particular that stands out here in Jacksonville as well as South Florida is organized groups staging auto accidents. In fact, Florida lawmakers have been trying to get a handle on it since 2010.
These insurance fraud scams caught our attention after we noticed the arrest of 20 people this year by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for conspiring to stage an accident with the intention of collecting insurance payouts.
“It’s a problem because it affects everyone, your insurance rates, all of them are rising in Florida. All the major carriers are rising and the reason is because of fraud,” explained Joe Licandro who heads the State Attorney’s Office Economic Crime Division.
Licandro says the arrests we inquired about are all related to a complex racketeering scheme, a scam that took in over $100,000 by fraudulently billing at least 20 different insurance carriers.
This elaborate crime ring, which originated at a Jacksonville pain clinic, was disrupted in 2012, and legislation was created to battle it. But, criminals are finding new ways to keep this type of insurance fraud alive.
“The other thing we see a lot of is vehicle jump ins, where you have legitimate accidents that occur, meaning it really was a true accident, and you’ve got somebody who was not actually in one of the cars — and not even on the police report — and then going getting treatment and saying, ‘Oh, I was part of this accident that occurred two days ago.’ And they’re even calling the police to say, ‘Hey, you didn’t get my name on that report but I was sitting in the backseat when this happened,'” Licandro explained.
Insurance fraud creates a hidden tax on every Floridian who drives a car or owns a home. The average two-car family in Florida pays nearly $100 more in auto premiums — thanks to these no-fault scams.
The latest scam to hit Florida hard is property insurance fraud, where homeowners are taking advantage of a loophole in a law that allows a third party to handle your insurance claim.
Basically, contractors are getting homeowners to sign a form that transfers your insurance claim to another person or business, and then that person tries to get more money from your insurance company — keeping a cut for themselves.
Industry experts say, as a result, water damage claims are up across Florida, nearly 5 percent. But, new legislation is being drafted to try and put an end to this.