Closing a chapter in a two-year investigation, city authorities have charged a Kingsessing man with masterminding an alleged conspiracy to defraud 10 insurance companies of more than $1 million in phony claims from staged automobile accidents.
Wallace "Pops" Morris, 42, of the 5700 block of Hadfield Street, awaits arraignment on more than 400 counts of fraud, perjury, theft by deception, bribery, filing false reports to law enforcement, and related charges in connection with 187 claims filed by "his friends, family members, and assorted hangers-on," District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said yesterday.
She said Morris had collected about $100,000 for orchestrating the scam.
The hoax began to unravel in January with the arrest of Philadelphia Police Officer Deshane Riggins on charges he prepared fictitious accident reports that others used in insurance scams, Abraham said.
Riggins, 28, pleaded guilty May 5 to 19 counts of insurance fraud and has since been fired. Awaiting sentencing, he is cooperating with the investigation, which may ensnare doctors and lawyers who received fees for duplicitous legal work and unnecessary medical treatments, Abraham said.
"These cases cannot exist unless there is an agreement - a conspiracy - between doctors and lawyers" and phony claimants, said Abraham, adding that "we, the consumers, pay the price because insurance companies raise their rates to cover these frauds."
As for whether the legal and medical professionals were knowing accomplices, Abraham said that many of the cases "sound so similar that any lawyer has to know they are fake claims."
According to the charges, Morris, acting with 268 friends, relatives and others, staged 45 accidents, almost always between two cars with at least two passengers in each. From Riggins he secured fraudulent incident reports to support the claims. Morris paid Riggins $400 to $500 for each false report, according to the District Attorney's Office's summary of the criminal complaint.
Next, Morris introduced his confederate claimants to doctors and lawyers with whom he had finder's-fee arrangements that netted him from $500 to $800 per referral.
In most cases, the claimants pursued quick cash settlements of $20,000 to $30,000, Abraham said.
Beyond fees for referring the cases to the doctors and lawyers, she said, Morris took a portion of each settlement paid to the claimants.
"He was collecting from both sides," Abraham said.
In addition to Riggins and Morris, 38 people have been arrested and charged with insurance fraud and other crimes connected to the accidents.
The affected insurance companies were AIG, Allstate, American Independent, Cambridge, Erie, Geico, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, Progressive and State Farm.