FORT MYERS, Fla. - A year of undercover work came to a head Thursday. Detectives busted five people in southwest Florida accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from insurance companies as part of a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud ring. Investigators say this crime hurts everyone because it drives up your insurance rates.
The facilities this investigation focused on were Evans Rehab Center on Evans Avenue in Fort Myers and Charlotte Wellness and Rehab on Kings Highway in Port Charlotte.
It all started with a tip. "Insurance company investigators came to us and reported that they had suspicions that Evans Rehab was billing for services not rendered," said Lt. Mark Fritz with the Florida Department of Financial Service's Fraud Division, "and, that there was a recruiter that was referring patients to that clinic."
Lt. Mark Fritz says a cooperating witness went in and was paid to sign documents but not get treatment. The insurance company however, was billed. "We had a traffic accident report with their names on it and that's what got us in the doors," Fritz said.
That led them to Charlotte Wellness and Rehab which was allegedly doing the same thing. "Each clinic, they were required to visit forty times," Fritz explained. "With the forty times, it maxed out the PIP payment. A lot of times, they'd go there and sign a form multiple times for five visits, but they really didn't have to go all those forty times."
In all, investigators say Nationwide Insurance lost more than $33,000 from the two clinics. And, Floridians paid, too. "It's a direct result of citizens of Florida's insurance premiums going up," Fritz.
Thursday, deputies arrested Gloria Feliz, Andres Bravo, Joe Gevans, Gerard Valere and Ronald Woodley for their roles in the large-scale personal injury protection fraud ring.
The investigation also found that Charlotte Wellness was allegedly operating without proper licensing. We stopped by Feliz's home. She was the only one who'd bonded out of jail at the time. She had no comment on the investigation.