Hurt? 6 who sued never on bus, says D.A.

Posted: October 13, 2012

Here are a couple of tidbits to include in Insurance Fraud for Dummies:

If you're going to claim you were in a SEPTA bus accident, make sure you were on the bus when the accident happened.

And surveillance cameras are everywhere. Including on SEPTA buses.

Eight Philadelphians charged Thursday with insurance fraud could learn those lessons the hard way.

The District Attorney's Office said the alleged fraud began with a December 2009 accident in Center City, when the mirror of a SEPTA bus clipped the mirror of an armored car at 15th and Walnut Streets. The bump was barely noticeable, SEPTA officials reported. The bus received a small scratch. No injuries were immediately noted.

But after the incident, SEPTA received multiple claims from people - all represented by the same attorney - stating they were injured in the "crash," prosecutors said.

The combined medical bills for neck and back injuries and pain management totaled $80,000. SEPTA annually pays out about $40 million in claims, a spokesman said.

The lawyer also allegedly filed claims with the Brinks armored car company, though the armored car in the accident was owned by rival Loomis. Even when informed that Brinks was not involved, the lawyer allegedly continued to press the company for claims, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors declined to identify the lawyer, noting that charges had not been filed against him.

Recall those surveillance cameras. The Route 21 bus involved in the incident had several of them. Each provided a different view of passengers and the surroundings.

They showed that only two of the claimants, Lorraine Huff and Malik Spivey, had been on the bus, according to prosecutors.

Also on the video, a passerby identified as Eric Lovett is seen outside the bus, requesting an "incident card," officials said.

According to prosecutors, Lovett allegedly enlisted five other people he found on the street or in his North Philadelphia neighborhood and persuaded them to file monetary claims for injuries.

"Some of these people were at home, and the runner enlisted them to file claims," said Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office.

Charged with insurance fraud, criminal conspiracy, and related crimes are Spivey, 21; Lovett, 46; Kitt Smith, 48; Avis Jackson, 56; and Stephanie Williams, 36. Facing the same charges, plus perjury counts, are Huff, 45; Faith Rowley, 46; and Arthur Whaley, 55.

All eight were arrested between Sept. 20 and 27 and were scheduled to appear in court Monday at the Criminal Justice Center.

The surveillance cameras, which have been installed on about 60 percent of SEPTA's bus fleet in recent years, have made a sizable dent in suspect claims, agency spokesman Andrew Busch said.

In the 2011 fiscal year, SEPTA received 5,219 claims. In fiscal 2012, which ended in June, that number was down about 10 percent to 4,656.

"We do believe the surveillance video system has proved to be a major asset in our fight against fraud," Busch said. "These are the best witnesses we could possibly have."


Contact Sam Wood at 215-854-2796, samwood@phillynews.com, or follow @inqwriter on Twitter.

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