Local News

Ten charged with faking wrecks for insurance

Posted January 25, 2011 11:10 a.m. EST
Updated January 25, 2011 6:40 p.m. EST

— Sixteen people are accused of working together to stage vehicle wrecks to file insurance claims, state Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said Tuesday.

Department of Insurance investigators allege that brothers Howard Earl Whitfield Jr. and Douglas Whitfield were the ringleaders of the operation, which worked in Nash, Edgecombe and Franklin counties. Investigators said they conspired with family members and others to file insurance claims for wrecks that never occurred and to physically stage crashes in which one suspect intentionally hit another suspect’s vehicle from behind.

Universal Insurance, Farm Bureau Insurance of North Carolina, GMAC Insurance, Nationwide Insurance and Geico Insurance paid a combined $76,217 in fraudulent claims to members of the group between August 2009 and January 2010, officials said.

"We have little doubt they would have kept going if we hadn't stopped them," said Al Koehler, the DOI's director of criminal investigations.

Ten of the people suspected of taking part in the ring have been arrested, and warrants have been issued for the other six.

The following Rocky Mount residents were charged with one count each of obtaining property by false pretense, insurance fraud and conspiracy:

Ryan Craig Bobbitt, 23, of 1029 Compass Creek Road, Billie Whitfield Hollis, 44, of 165 White Oak Road, Virginia Janosik Howlett, 56, of 575 Tobacco Road, Steven Tyrell Jones, 23, of 1924 Hunter Hill Road, Leandrous Lee Murray, 26, of 615 Piedmont Ave., Kristy Turner, 27, of 201 Thunder Road and Howard Buddy Whitfield, III, 18, of 165 White Oak Road.

Howard Earl Whitfield Jr., 45, of 91 Bluestone Lane in Tarboro, and John David Hoggard Jr., 32, of 104 Williams St. in Tarboro, were charged with one count each of obtaining property by false pretense, insurance fraud and attempting to obtain property by false pretense and two felony counts of conspiracy.

Renee Jones Naccarato, 36, of 1939 James Road in Nashville, is charged with one count each of obtaining property by false pretense and insurance fraud and three counts of conspiracy.

Goodwin said about 10 cents of every $1 paid in auto insurance premiums goes toward the payment of fraudulent claims.

"If insurance companies pay for false, unjustified insurance claims, we all pay in the form of higher insurance premiums," he said.

The DOI recovered more than $21.1 million in insurance fraud last year, more than doubling the total from 2009, Goodwin said. Although Mecklenburg and Wake counties had the most cases of insurance fraud by far, the DOI recovered nearly half of its annual total – $10.3 million – from Martin County.

"We're cracking down on insurance fraud every day," Goodwin said.

The Nash County Sheriff’s Office and the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office worked with DOI investigators on the case.