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Published: Wednesday, 3/3/2004

Insurance fraud to be topic of seminar in Columbus

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The world of white-collar crime is no longer just for Wall Street stockbrokers and Harvard MBAs.

Tom Matuszak of the Lucas County prosecutor s office said street criminals and drug dealers are turning to sophisticated insurance scams, fraud, and other organized crime activities on which law enforcement tends to put little emphasis.

“As a general rule, police officers don t make white-collar crime a high priority, and instead, they concentrate on drugs, murders, and gangs. If they are not investigating white-collar crimes, then the cases are not being prosecuted,” he said.

Mr. Matuszak will be among the speakers today at a seminar in Columbus hosted by the Ohio Department of Insurance. An assistant prosecutor for seven years, Mr. Matuszak is assigned to the prosecutor s organized crime task force.

Topics to be discussed include staged accident rings, chiropractic fraud investigations, agent misconduct, and health-care fraud prosecutions. Greg Lockhart, a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, will discuss federal prosecutions.

Michael Fulwider, a spokesman for the insurance department, said about $9 million in insurance-related fraud incidents were reported and investigated by the agency in 2003.

“A good percentage of the fraud we see relates to individuals inflating losses or falsifying documents in relation to homeowner and auto insurance claims. But we are also seeing the emergence of organized groups,” he said.

Mr. Matuszak has given presentations nationally on the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, commonly referred to as RICO. The federal law has been used in the prosecution of organized crime.

He has addressed the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney s Association, the Ohio Bar Association, and seminars for attorney training in Columbia, S.C. A recognized expert on the subject, he has written a reference guide for litigation involving the RICO statute.

Mr. Matuszak said insurance fraud cases sometimes involves first-time offenders, but often the bulk of the insurance company losses are from professional scam artists.

The RICO statute is a strict-liability offense, and prosecutors don t have to prove defendants had purpose, knowledge, recklessness, or negligence when they committed the crime. “Prosecutors only have to show that the defendant acted,” he said.



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