Hoang Tran Oct. 6, 2015, 2:14pm


HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has charged eight individuals, including a licensed insurance agent, with insurance fraud.

"Insurance fraud is one of the most costly crimes in the entire country," Kane said in a statement.

According to the FBI, it costs the taxpayers and government close to $40 billion a year.

"We all pay when insurance rates spike due to fraud, which makes it extremely important that we continue to investigate and prosecute those who seek to defraud insurance companies," the attorney general said. 

Kane's office last week charged the following individuals:

Percy E. Law III, 47, Donora, Washington County, was charged Aug. 28 with one count each of forgery, theft by deception, identity theft and insurance fraud. Law worked as a licensed insurance agent for Monumental Life Insurance Company and allegedly submitted 16 fraudulent life insurance policy applications to his company for the purpose of collecting commission payments to which he was not entitled. This resulted in about $20,000 in commissions. Law also allegedly illicitly used social security numbers belonging to individuals he had written valid insurance policies for in the past. He waived a preliminary hearing on Sept. 15. His formal arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 12.

James Alston, 51, Wilkinsburg, Allegheny County, was charged Sept. 14 with one count each of insurance fraud and criminal attempt to commit theft by deception when Alston filed a claim in December with his insurer, Progressive Insurance. He claimed his parked Buick Rainier was damaged in a hit-and-run accident. Agents said they learned the accident actually occurred when Alston struck another vehicle while he was being paid to transport two individuals, which violates his policy. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 8.

Mario Anthony Giannotti, 25, Apollo, Armstrong County, was charged Sept. 9 with two counts of insurance fraud and one count of criminal attempt to commit theft by deception. Giannotti's automobile insurance policy with Progressive Insurance lapsed in November of last year. The following month, Giannotti made a payment to reinstate the policy, at which point he also claimed he had not been involved in an accident since his policy lapsed. The day after the policy was reinstated, Giannotti filed a claim related to an accident in which he reported that his vehicle was struck from behind by another vehicle. Agents said they learned the accident actually occurred roughly 90 minutes before Giannotti called to reinstate his auto insurance policy. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 14.

Heath M. Copenhaver, 36, and Brianne L. Copenhaver, 35, both of Shelocta, Indiana County, were charged Sept. 9 with two counts each of insurance fraud and one count each of criminal attempt to commit theft by deception. In January, Brianne Copenhaver added full comprehensive and collision coverage to an insurance policy for a Ford Freestyle. On the same day the coverage was added, investigators said Brianne Copenhaver filed a claim stating her husband, Heath, had been involved in an accident that day. Both Brianne and Heath Copenhaver gave statements to Progressive Insurance, their insurer, stating the accident occurred at noon that day. It was later determined that the accident actually occurred before Brianne Copenhaver added coverage to her existing policy, investigators reported. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 2.

Theresa Lynn Sample, 25, St. Mary's, Elk County, was charged Sept. 25 with one count each of insurance fraud and criminal attempt to commit theft by deception. Sample allegedly made a claim to Geico, her insurance company, stating she was involved in an accident in July of last year in which she struck another vehicle. A Pennsylvania State Police report confirmed Sample's boyfriend was actually the one driving the vehicle, which was not insured at the time of the accident. Sample is accused of calling Geico after the accident occurred to obtain insurance. Sample is awaiting a preliminary arraignment.

David Lenzie Alston, Coatesville, Chester County, was charged Sept. 17 with one count each of insurance fraud and criminal attempt to commit theft by deception. It was revealed that Alston was involved in a motor vehicle accident in June 2013. Alston's vehicle, a Dodge Ram, was not insured at the time of the accident. After the accident occurred, Alston allegedly called his insurer, Infinity Insurance, to transfer coverage from a different vehicle to the Dodge Ram. He also is accused of misrepresenting the time of the accident to the insurance company. Alston is awaiting a preliminary hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 9.

Shakyrah Laurae Barnett, 27, Philadelphia, was charged Aug. 18 with one count each of insurance fraud, unsworn falsification to police and criminal attempt to commit theft by deception. It was revealed that Barnett allegedly submitted false documentation, including medical bills, indicating she was injured in March 2011 when the car her mother was driving was involved in an accident. Investigators said they learned Barnett was not inside the vehicle during the accident, but nonetheless signed an application for benefits with Allstate Insurance, her mother's insurer. Barnett waived a preliminary hearing on Sept. 14. A formal arraignment is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 12.

The investigations were led by the attorney general's Insurance Fraud Section.

Sam Marshall, president and CEO of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, said the best fraud prevention method is everyone -- including insurers -- being “diligent at all levels."

"Law enforcement gets engaged. There are some hurdles," he said. "The lines between overcharging and undercharging is a great one.”

Marshall said audits also are effective in spying discrepancies.

Jeffrey Johnson, a spokesman for Kane's office, echoed Marshall's statement, noting that many of the office's cases result from referrals from insurers themselves.

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