The call that came into a GEICO auto insurance claims department seemed routine: A Lexus GS350 was involved in a fender bender with a Chrysler 320 in North Miami-Dade. Within days, adjusters from a team that covers the area reported inspecting the Lexus and authorizing a series of payments totaling over $16,000.
But the accident never actually happened, investigators say.
The exact same Lexus, in fact, had been used to file at least 10 claims for phantom crashes, all signed off on by the same adjusters. And the body shop that reaped most of the payouts isn't even real — one of the company's address is a vacant lot in Little Haiti, according to Miami-Dade prosecutors.
"An insurance scam with an unusual twist," Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Ferández Rundle said at an afternoon press conference.
The bogus crash report in September 2016 was but one of dozens of sham claims that cost the insurance giant more than half a million dollars, prosecutors say, and led to a series of arrests on Tuesday morning. Among those arrested: two GEICO insurance adjusters, Juan Carlos Diaz and Cesar Santiago Tapanes, who prosecutors say got cash kickbacks for helping defraud their own company.
The ringleaders, according to authorities, were Sepp Lewis Tevini, a mechanic who arranged the bogus claims on cars he was supposed to be servicing; and Estevenson "Skull" Dorval, who represented two auto body shops that didn't really exist.
In all, 14 people were charged in "Investigation Vehicle Roulette" conducted by Florida's Bureau of Insurance Fraud and the State Attorney's Office. The others charged are believed to have allowed their policies to be used, or made phone calls to GEICO while impersonating crash victims.
The group faces charges including grand theft, insurance fraud and racketeering. In all, at least 45 bogus claims were made, most of them on high-end cars, according to an arrest warrant by detectives Pablo Abril and Elizabeth Suarez, and prosecutor Jennie Conklin.
Some of the car owners had no idea that their policies were being abused.
Two victims: Miami divorce lawyer Sandy Becher and his wife, Lizbed Ortiz, who used to hire Tevini to service their two cars. Little did they know, prosecutors said, more than a dozen fraudulent claims were levied on their GEICO policies.
Court records show that Becher represented Tevini in 2013 on a charge of grand theft and exploiting the elderly. The charge was dismissed when Tevini completed a program for first-time offenders.
Another well-known Miami lawyer, Sam Rabin, was also a victim, according to an arrest warrant. He owned a BMW 428i that was reported to have been involved in an accident on Nov. 23, 2016 — Rabin's son drove the car and told detectives that Tevini had taken the car to fix a small dent, but it had never been involved in a crash on that day.