A Center City lawyer in the middle of an alleged large-scale insurance fraud made his first court appearance in the case yesterday - as a defendant.

The preliminary hearing for H. Allen Litt, facing 73 charges, was continued until March 4 and penciled in to span two days after Assistant District Attorney Charles Gallagher told Common Pleas Court Judge Robert S. Blasi that there would be from 15 to 18 witnesses.

A "protracted matter," Gallagher called it.

Litt quietly entered Room 1003 of the Criminal Justice Center with his attorney, Marc Neff. If he had passed with Neff through the swinging gate in the bar separating spectators from participants, he would have gone unnoticed. But among the casually dressed non-legal types, he stood out.

Litt, 58, wore a precisely pressed, light-gray suit over a white dress shirt, with a tie in subdued shades. A black cashmere wool coat was draped over his left arm. Seated stiffly on the edge of a bench, he leaned forward slightly to watch Neff confer with Gallagher.

The two lawyers told Blasi that Gallagher had agreed to return copies of documents seized from Litt's law office at 1515 Market St. The judge set a deadline of Jan. 17.

Prosecutors say investigators have uncovered numerous fraudulent insurance claims filed by Litt on behalf of clients beginning in 1981. They estimate payouts from insurance companies total more than $2.5 million.

Litt, of Bryn Mawr, used about 100 "runners" to find potential claimants, who would claim injuries based on accidents that never happened or were falsified, they charge. The lawyer would direct them to particular physicians, then tell them to run up large medical bills, prosecutors say.

Litt allegedly paid them up to $1,000 to help fake an accident.

Joshua Pitts, 63, of Philadelphia, generated more claims than any other runner, investigators found. He is expected to appear in March with Litt, along with at least two other defendants, both of Philadelphia: Kim Jones, 26, also identified as Baheejah Alwan, and Aquilla Johnson, 23, also identified as Aquilla Alwan.

A total of 15 people have been charged in the case, with arrests dating to September 2006. Three people pleaded guilty and cooperated with the grand jury investigation that led to Litt's arrest.

In 1994, an insurance investigator talked to a witness in a Litt case who said the accident had not happened. The admission triggered the investigation.

As Litt and his lawyer, Neff, left the courtroom yesterday, they declined to comment.

"Not today, thank you," Neff said.

Litt smiled stiffly.

Contact staff writer Lea Sitton Stanley at 215-854-2796 or lstanley@phillynews.com.