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Operation Twisted Metal

Operation Twisted Metal

Charles G. LaBella, United States Attorney Southern District of California; William D. Gore, Special Agent in Charge, San Diego Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Chuck Quackenbush, Insurance Commissioner, California Department of Insurance, today announce the culmination of a three-year investigation code-named "Twisted Metal."

Arrests of 11 individuals in San Diego and three individuals in the Los Angeles area were carried out this morning.

The California Department of Insurance and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in partnership with the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the San Diego Police Department, have successfully penetrated a large scale staged auto accident ring operating out of San Diego. Evidence has been gathered throughout the State of California regarding 11 staged automobile accidents. While the arrest sites cannot be disclosed in order to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation, the following search locations can be disclosed:

  • The Law Office of Inna Elana Gofman
    6315 Van Nuys Boulevard,
    Suite B,
    Van Nuys, California
  • The Law Offices of Ellis and Kingston
    6320 Commodore Sloat Drive
    Los Angeles, California
  • The Law Offices of Yudelvich and Associates
    3435 Camino Del Rio South
    Suite 220
    San Diego, California
  • The residence of Igor Snarsky
    11109 Caminito Inocenta
    San Diego, California
  • The Chiropractic Offices of Bruce Ankrom
    7200 Parkway Drive
    Suite 117
    La Mesa, California
  • Chiropractic Care Center
    6171 Mission Gorge Road
    Suite 110
    San Diego, California
  • The Chiropractic Offices of Marvin Spatz
    3627 30th Street
    San Diego, California
  • The Chiropractic Offices of Kenneth Stern (two locations)
    2206 Balboa Avenue
    San Diego, California and
    355 K Street
    Suite D
    Chula Vista, California

United States Attorney Charles G. LaBella comments: "These indictments illustrate that, together with the responsible state and federal law enforcement agencies, we will devote the resources necessary to prosecute those that attempt to defraud insurance companies for their personal gain."

William D. Gore, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI states: "I am proud of the notable results we have achieved with our law enforcement partners and our associates in the private insurance industry. This operation should not only deter people who are considering participating in illegal schemes to bilk insurance companies, but it will also demonstrate the level of commitment law enforcement has to investigate these crimes. These illegal activities significantly impact all of us in our annual insurance premiums."

Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush states: "Today's action brings to a halt, one of San Diego's largest staged auto accident rings. This is due to the diligent efforts put forth by the Department of Insurance Fraud Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Attorney's Office. This case includes the arrests of attorneys and doctors, as well as the principal capper. These lawbreakers have been taken off the street and as a result they won't be generating additional costs in fraudulent auto insurance claims for California consumers."

Since 1995, the California Department of Insurance (CDI) Fraud Division, the FBI, the San Diego Police Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) have worked jointly on an undercover scenario to penetrate an organization involved in staging automobile collisions. The primary undercover agent was a California Department of Insurance investigator. Other undercover agents were from the San Diego Police Department, the California Department of Health Services, the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, as well as other Department of Insurance investigators.

The undercover agents worked closely with the subjects of the investigation who planned and executed 11 staged accidents and two staged auto thefts. The subjects were tape recorded describing the manner in which they staged the collisions, how the scheme was conducted with the participating attorneys and doctors, and how the participants divided the proceeds.

During the course of the investigation, over 500 undercover contacts were made in a 22-month period. Over 40 separate fraudulent claims were made to private insurance carriers based on the 11 staged collisions.

On May 13, 1998, 14 subjects were indicted in the Southern District of California (San Diego). The subjects included "cappers," attorneys, administrators, chiropractors and "stuffed passengers." These defendants were each charged with one count of Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud and up to 27 counts of Mail Fraud and Aiding and Abetting.

It should be stressed that an indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are entitled to a fair trial, at which it will be the government's burden to prove guilt beyond a resonable doubt.

On June 23, 1998, the California Department of Insurance, the FBI, the San Diego Police Department and members of the Regional Auto Theft Task Force (RATT) executed search warrants on nine locations, seven of which were in San Diego and two of which were in the Los Angeles area. Arrest warrants for 14 individuals were also executed, 11 in San Diego and three in Los Angeles. In all, over 150 federal and state agents were involved in the searches and arrests conducted on June 23, 1998.

Insurance premiums are higher than they would otherwise be as a result of unscrupulous medical providers, personal injury attorneys and other individuals who participate in schemes to defraud insurance companies out of money by staging fraudulent automobile accidents. The Chicago-based National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that property/casualty insurance fraud cost U.S. insurance companies and ultimately those who pay the premiums a total of $20 billion a year. A substantial portion of this amount is from staged automobile accident schemes. The biggest beneficiaries of this illegal business are dishonest attorneys, medical professionals, and "cappers." The cooperating passengers also receive a portion of the illegal proceeds. NICB further estimates that all forms of insurance fraud cost the U.S. insurance industry between $30 billion and $50 billion a year. The average homeowner will pay an extra $200 per year, and an extra $100 per year for each vehicle owned, as a result of insurance fraud.

  • Title 18, USC, Section 1341 - Mail Fraud;
  • Title 18, USC, Section 2 - Aiding and Abetting;
  • Title 18, USC, Section 371 - Conspiracy
  • Dr. Bruce Edward Ankrom - 43 years of age, Chiropractor;
  • Viatcheslav M. Borokhov - 52 years of age, "Stuffed Passenger";
  • Inna Elana Gofman - 37 years of age, Attorney;
  • Dmitry Goldman - 46 years of age, "Stuffed Passenger";
  • Gavriyel Kaziyev - 50 years of age, "Stuffed Passenger";
  • Irma Elizabeth Palacios - 53 years of age, Paralegal/Office Administrator;
  • Igor Pruchanskiy - 22 years of age, "Stuffed Passenger";
  • Mikhail Rozenberg - 53 years of age, Paralegal/Office Administrator;
  • Paul G. Shvartsburd - 47 years of age, Physical Therapist;
  • Igor Snarsky - 39 years of age, Capper/Recruiter;
  • Dr. Marvin Charles Spatz - 68 years of age, Chiropractor;
  • Dr. Kenneth Howard Stern - 31 years of age, Chiropractor;
  • Regina S. Vartanova - 37 years of age, "Stuffed Passenger";
  • Anatoliy I. Zakinov - 46 years of age, "Stuffed Passenger".

"Capper" - The "capper" typically is involved in recruiting "stuffed passengers" who will be used to submit fraudulent claims to the insurance companies. The "cappers" are typically paid a percentage of the total receipts from the false claims. The "cappers" supply cooperating passengers for the participating attorneys and medical providers.

"Stuffed Passengers" - These individuals are recruited to make false claims regarding their involvement in automobile accidents. They are typically coached as to the details of the fictitious collisions and resulting fictitious injuries.

"Nail Car" - This is a term for the victim vehicle involved in the staged accident that is hit by the "hammer car." The vehicle is often "stuffed" with passengers, who then file the fraudulent claims with the assistance of legal professionals.

"Hammer Car" - This is a term for the "At Fault" vehicle in a staged accident that hits the "nail car." This car is typically insured, and the insurer is often defrauded of an average of $6000 per claimant per accident.

"Kickback" - A term for fees paid to "cappers" by unethical attorneys and medical providers for the referral of accidents. These payments are often made in cash to conceal them from investigators.

Law enforcement participants:

  • California Department of Insurance;
  •  Federal Bureau of Investigation;
  •  U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District;
  •  District Attorney's Office, San Diego County;
  •  San Diego Police Department;
  •  Regional Auto Theft Task Force;
  •  Immigration and Naturalization Service; and,
  •  The National Insurance Crime Bureau

Private industry:

  • Farmers Insurance Company;
  • 20th Century Insurance;
  • Liberty Mutual Insurance;
  • Geico Insurance;
  • State Farm Insurance;
  • Wawanesa Insurance; and,
  • Prudential Insurance