Several suspects have been arrested and two South Florida clinics closed as part of an operation to crack down on fraudulent insurance claims related to staged car crashes, authorities said.
Miami Police worked with the Secret Service, local and state agencies and insurance companies as part of "Operation Never Ends." At a news conference Friday, authorities said the operation took more than a year to conduct.
“The State Attorney's Office takes these cases very seriously and takes these crimes -- staged accidents and insurance fraud -- very seriously,” said Scott Holtz, with the Miami Dade State Attorney's Office. “That's why we are committed to fighting them through our specialized fraud unit.”
Detectives on Friday were rounding up those they say were involved in the scheme. Among the suspects are Jorge Felix Felipe Pupo, 49, accused of being the ringleader, and Yanaris Ramirez Paneque, 36, a receptionist at one health clinic, authorities said.
Such staged crashes and fraudulent insurance claims are helping insurance costs skyrocket and become unaffordable for many, police said. It also leads to more uninsured motorists on Florida's highways.
Florida is now the third most expensive state for car insurance, having recently surpassed New York, authorities said.
Police say they went undercover inside a medical building in the 700 block of Northwest 23rd Avenue and at another location near Flagler and the Palmetto Expressway.
Detectives said recruiters would find those willing to participate in the staged accidents, then bring them to medical clinics where paperwork was done to get money back from insurance companies.
Police Sgt. Luis Taborda explained the scheme.
“The clinics are the main,” he said. “They provide the money to a runner and the runner puts together the crash -- orchestrates the crash.”
Police said the ring was making big money on the claims.
"I could tell you that in one investigation that we did at the beginning, they were up to $80,000 before we shut them down -- in just one crash," Taborda said.