For a quarter-century, Center City lawyer H. Allen Litt allegedly ran an elaborate scheme in which he recruited others to scope out cracked sidewalks across the city to fake hundreds of trip-and-fall accidents.

The alleged scam - which authorities say earned Litt $2.5 million over the years - involved doctors and ordinary citizens recruited to file false insurance claims. Litt paid them fees of up to $1,000 to help fake the accidents.

Philadelphia's district attorney likened Litt to a modern-day Fagin.

Yesterday, Litt, 58, of Bryn Mawr, who has a law office at 1515 Market St., and 14 other people in the alleged ring were charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy, theft by deception and related charges in the scheme that District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said had been in operation since 1981. There were 73 charges filed in the case, officials said.

Litt surrendered to authorities yesterday at the Center City office of his lawyer, Marc Neff, officials said.

Also arrested yesterday were Joshua Pitts, 63; Baheejah Alwan, 26; Aquilla Alwan, 23; and Rashad Alwan, 30, all of the 1700 block of Francis Street.

Abraham said her office had found evidence of "hundreds upon hundreds of fake accidents" all around the city.

The charges followed a grand-jury investigation. The probe began in 2004 after an insurance investigator found a witness in one case who said no accident had taken place, said Linda Perkins, chief of the district attorney's Insurance Fraud Unit.

Abraham compared Litt to the character Fagin in Charles Dickens'

Oliver Twist,

who enlisted young thieves to steal for him.

"Fagin is the master thief who recruited people to go out and pick pockets," Abraham said, explaining that Litt hired "runners" to find and photograph potential accident sites.

"He would send his runners to look for cracks in sidewalks in front of businesses large and small, supermarkets, large drugstore chains, mom-and-pop stores, any commercial business whatsoever," Abraham said.

The runners would engage friends and relatives to stage accidents and claim fake injuries, Abraham said.

In some instances, the people making the claims had existing injuries, such as broken bones, that they alleged to be the result of falls, Abraham said.

She said that Litt would send those claiming injuries to select doctors, and that the patients would contend they suffered "soft-tissue injuries."

Abraham said soft-tissue injuries were more difficult to detect than broken bones and other injuries.

"Litt would file lawsuits against the banks, the department stores, and grocery stores" where the fake accidents were staged.

Abraham said investigators seized from Litt's office detailed records of payments to runners and numerous photographs of sidewalks throughout Philadelphia.

The grand jury heard testimony from several alleged runners, Abraham said. She said several of them had pleaded guilty in the case.

Abraham said Litt would pay people fees ranging from a couple of hundred to a thousand dollars to find the sites and stage the fake accidents. The lawsuits would yield thousands of dollars for Litt, officials said

About 10 physicians are under investigation in the case, Abraham said.

Others charged in the case were: James Guinn, 63, of Green Valley, Ariz.; Nate Shaw, 57, of the 900 block of Rittenhouse Street; and Lewis Crump, 65, of the 3000 block of Page Street, all of whom officials alleged were runners.

The others are Brenda Alexander, 43, of the 2500 block of North 12th Street; Shirley Cottman, 38, of the 4500 block of North 15th Street; Carolyn Cottman, 45, of the 1400 block of West Pacific Street; Lucille Hickman, 46, of the 6700 block of North Carlisle Street; Beverly Johnson, 56, of the 2500 block of North 12th Street; Montez Tucker, 47, of the 1900 block of North Patton Street; and John Whitmore, 59, of the 100 block of North 52d Street.

They were all arrested between September 2006 and January 2007, officials said.

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.