Fraud It took an Attorney to get the truth out. please read.

Author Subject: Fraud It took an Attorney to get the truth out. please read.
Working Families Of America Unite Posted At 14:30:21 03/20/2000

Two sides to insurance fraud

Story Created: 03/16/2000 10:30:25

The billboards around the city blare the warning -- commit insurance fraud and you'll end up in prison. The implication: That employees are ripping off businesses and taxpayers by filing bogus claims.

The implication bothers Erie attorney Joseph Steele, who represents injured workers.

Steele wants the public to know about the other side of insurance fraud -- businesses that scam the system by failing to carry workers' compensation insurance and insurance companies that abuse workers' rights by rejecting legitimate claims. Those companies, for him, are just as guilty as the "injured" worker who takes off his neck brace so he can play a round of golf.

Steele made his point to Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk last month. Foulk on Feb. 28 held a news conference announcing his office had applied for a $200,000 grant to help fight insurance fraud. The money would come from the state-created Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority, which is funded through $8 million assessed to insurance companies. The authority, among other things, sponsors those billboards.

Foulk cited the case of a man Erie police charged Feb. 22 with filing a false workers' comp claim and receiving thousands of dollars.

"This is only the beginning of a very aggressive effort," said Foulk, who took office in January.

Steele sent Foulk a letter the next day.

"Certainly, I applaud the prosecution of anyone who has received insurance money fraudulently," he wrote. "Those persons, however few, cast a bad light on all the many honest, injured workers, and I would like to see them weeded out.

"However, one would hope that the people's attorney would be equally zealous in investigating and prosecuting insurance fraud perpetuated by employers and workers' compensation carriers as well. One might question whether that will happen since the $200,000 grant you seek is funded by the insurance companies would be investigating."

Not so fast, Foulk responded. He wrote Steele on March 6.

"Rest assured that at no time did I intend to give the impression that 'people who get injured at work are the bad guys, fakes and frauds,"' he wrote, quoting part of Steele's letter. "On the contrary, you and I both know that, more often than not, insurance claims are, in fact, legitimate.

"However, I did want to convey the message that if sufficient evidence exists to charge an individual (suspected of insurance fraud) ... this office will, in fact, proceed with a good-faith prosecution .... I can assure you that if a case is brought to this office involving an employer who fails to carry the appropriate workers' compensation coverage, it will be prosecuted in the same manner."

One other thing: Steele and Foulk are friends. Steele worked as an assistant district attorney in Allegheny County a decade ago, and, at Foulk's request, already has given Foulk's staff pointers on homicide prosecutions.

Steele said he remains one of Foulk's big fans. He said he only wants Foulk to go after insurance fraud no matter who the crook is.

"We'll be watching how even-handed your prosecutions are," Steele wrote.

To which Foulk responded: "I also give you my personal assurance that any and all prosecutions handled by this office will be 'even-handed.' Furthermore, we will prosecute crime in this county irrespective of who someone is or what socioeconomic status they may hold."

That's a warning deserving of a billboard as well.


Ed Palattella covers the courts for the Times Publishing Company.


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