If you drive a car in Brooklyn, chances are you've encountered many
headaches during that endless search for a parking spot. What,
you might ask, could be worse? How about this: People in Brooklyn pay the highest car
insurance rates in the state.
Someone who lives in Brooklyn and
drives a 2004 Chevy Malibu would be charged an average of more than
$3,000 for six months of required insurance coverage, while the average cost for the same car in the Bronx is about half that amount.
Why is this so? It is largely due to auto insurance fraud.
"DOC IN THE BOX" INSURANCE FRAUD
Brooklyn's rates are so high because the borough is home to some of the
largest and most efficient auto insurance fraud mills in the country.
Millions of dollars in false insurance claims are fraudulently submitted
and paid each year and, according to a recent study (in pdf format) conducted by the
Insurance Research Council, increased claims abuse and fraud were
particularly high in Brooklyn in every category.
These criminal enterprises are centered on fake clinics known as "Doc in the Box" operations, which use an intricate system of fake victims who claim false injuries and
then, after being "treated" by one of these clinics, fraudulently bill
medical and auto insurance companies. Though New York State law requires
medical doctors to operate clinics, most of these operations are not
under the supervision of a doctor and instead are under the operation of
unlicensed management teams. Instead of using the clinics to treat
injuries, the Doc in the Box operators are in the business of
fabricating and perpetrating insurance fraud.
All of this adds up to astronomical costs for the average Brooklyn
TOO MUCH FOR THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY TO HANDLE?
The Brooklyn District Attorney's office, which is responsible for
investigating and prosecuting these local criminals, has not been able
to keep up with these vast criminal enterprises in recent years. Recent
auto fraud cases - to the extent they have been brought - have dealt
only with cases being brought against the low-level "victims" and not
the people responsible for running these vast schemes.
These results occasionally produce a good sound bite, but do not decrease fraud
levels enough to lower premiums for the average Brooklynite. It is fair
to argue that the Brooklyn D.A.'s office is without serious direction
when it comes to prosecuting auto insurance fraud successfully, and that it is relying on antiquated investigative techniques.
BETTER ENFORCEMENT TECHNIQUES NEEDED
At the state level, the Attorney General's Auto Insurance Fraud Unit has
been quite successful in regard to producing meaningful convictions.
Like many other aspects of the Attorney General's office, the Auto
Insurance Fraud Unit represents a model that local prosecutors should
adopt. Among the reasons for its successes is a real commitment of
resources to combat this sophisticated law enforcement problem. This
includes assembling a highly professional staff on both the
prosecutorial and investigative sides.
The same thing could be happening in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn D.A. should be using techniques such
as wiretapping and undercover work to put forward a series of cases that
work up the chain of command. Going after the Doc in the Box
operations requires long-term commitments of
resources from a smart and professional prosecutor's office. The
Brooklyn D.A.'s failure to do this is evident in the lack of high-level
prosecution - cases that other law enforcement teams, including the
Attorney General's, are consistently putting together.
Since many of the auto fraud cases also cross jurisdictional lines, it
would make sense to work with other local prosecutors to investigate and
prosecute. The D.A. also needs to work together with the State Legislature to
propose new, anti-kickback legislation, similar to the type used to
fight against Medicaid fraud, that would effectively prohibit the
clinics and law firms from paying middlemen who act as conduits between
the "victims" and those who are perpetrating and certifying the
fraudulent claims. Frankly, there is little public evidence that
the Brooklyn D.A. has done this.
The prosecution of violent crimes
is obviously an important part of protecting the citizens of Brooklyn,
but, as the chief law enforcement officer in the borough, it's up to the
D.A. to take on insurance fraud rings in the same aggressive and
responsible manner other felonies require.
Mark G. Peters, the former chief of the New York State Attorney
General's Public Integrity Unit, is running for Brooklyn District Attorney.
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