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Deputies say trio staged auto accident in Tampa

TAMPA — Sheriff's deputies arrested three people who they say staged an auto crash on Sheldon Road on Friday night.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is reporting that Amauri Perez Delgado, 40, Zoraida Domitila Zayas Padilla, 41, and Frank Lopez Masso, 30, met before the crash to plan how they'd carry it out. About 10 p.m., they staged a crash at Sheldon Road and Hamilton Avenue, according to the Sheriff's Office.

They were planning to get money from their insurance companies by filing an insurance claim with an unknown pain management clinic, their arrest reports say.

They were charged with participation in a staged crash and taken to the Orient Road Jail. Bail was set at $7,500 each.

The arrests come amid news that the number of staged auto crashes appears to be increasing nationwide.

Tampa ranked second in the nation behind Brooklyn, N.Y., for questionable auto claims for the first half of 2009, according to National Insurance Crime Bureau statistics. Tampa Bay ranked fourth in a similar comparison of metropolitan regions.

The method in which the three Tampa residents are accused of carrying out their plan is the most common way staged auto crashes are done, according to Detective Michael Hennessy, who investigates insurance fraud in Tampa for the Florida Department of Financial Services.

In Florida, most staged crashes are carried out by a group of people who plan a crash and then either carry it out or set up a scene to appear as if there had been a crash. Usually, no innocent drivers are involved, Hennessy said.

After the crash, the drivers often file for medical services.

Florida Insurance Council executive vice president Sam Miller recently said that the number of staged auto crashes in Tampa will cause higher auto insurance rates.

An Allstate spokeswoman estimated that, nationally, 20 percent of premiums go toward helping insurers cover the cost of fraud.

Cracking down on auto insurance and personal injury fraud is a top priority for the insurance industry this legislative session. They're seeking to give state insurance fraud investigators the authority to pull over suspects, and they want to ensure that personal injury clinics are licensed with the state and owned by doctors.

That's an important piece because sometimes clinics are involved in the scheme, detectives said.

Deputies say trio staged auto accident in Tampa 03/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 13, 2010 9:01pm]
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