A CENTER CITY lawyer who masterminded a seven-year slip-and-fall racket that bilked insurance firms out of nearly $400,000 evaded arrest by committing suicide, District Attorney Seth Williams said yesterday.
Andrew H. Gaber, 52, of Delaware County, shot himself to death last week. He was scheduled to be arrested yesterday as a result of a nearly two-year grand-jury investigation that ensnared him and dozens of others whom he lured into helping him rip off some 21 insurance companies.
"This office will not give lawyers who commit white-collar crimes a free pass," Williams said at an afternoon news conference at his Center City office, attended by representatives of the insurance industry.
Gaber, a sole practitioner who operated from an office on Walnut Street near 15th, left behind 46 co-defendants who have been arrested or are being sought as a result of the grand-jury investigation.
The accused worked for Gaber as runners and clients. The runners, most of whom had once been clients, recruited new clients to stage slip-and-fall accidents to file false insurance claims, Williams said.
The runners would receive $100 to $500 per case, while the clients would receive money from the insurance company settlements, minus Gaber's 40 percent fee and any other expenses.
Runners, who often doubled as accident witnesses, were trained to make sure that ambulances were called, that clients were treated at hospitals and that accidents were staged on sidewalks where defects were not too obvious, Williams said.
Gaber even hung a photo in his office featuring a ruler measuring the appropriate height of a pavement defect as an example of a good spot to fake a fall, Williams said.
In total, the runners brought in 43 fictitious claims, of which Gaber settled 24 for $382,000. As of yesterday, Williams said, 24 defendants were being sought and 22 had been arrested and charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy and related crimes.
Assistant District Attorney Linda Montag said of the 22 people under arrest, 15 had pleaded guilty, three are expected to plead guilty and four will be admitted into diversion programs.
She encouraged those still on the lam to turn themselves in at the nearest police station or to call the investigation's lead detective, Alfredo Quintile, at 215-686-8760.
She said the investigation was aided by the cooperation of insurance companies, the National Insurance Crime Bureau and community groups such as the residents of the 1900 block of Catherine Street, who realized they were being targeted by Gaber because their homes were well insured.
Those neighbors, she said, "put together the matrix, put together the same motive, the same location - slip-and-falls that sounded alike - and they gathered together and they talked about it at community meetings."
Janet Fields-Himes, a paralegal who worked for Gaber for 10 years until she left in October 2011, gave damning testimony to the grand jury.
Many of Gaber's clients were drug abusers and homeless, she said.
Gaber didn't want any fall locations at unoccupied properties. Instead, he liked city and SEPTA claims until SEPTA installed cameras, Fields-Himes testified.
Gaber also didn't want to accept cases in which State Farm was the insurance company, she said, because it had a practice of sending every claim to its investigation unit.