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December 2020
Arrests  |  Convictions  | Submit a Referral

Chester County Insurance Broker Faces Criminal Charges

On December 14, 2020, Allen Linnell, Jr. was arrested in Chester County. According to the criminal complaint, in September of 2015, insurance agent Allen Linnell Jr. submitted two life insurance policy enrollment forms to Unity Financial Life Insurance along with two checks which were made payable to Unity. One check, written for the amount of $15,000, represented the client’s payment in full for a funeral benefits policy. The other check, written for the amount of $91,000, represented the client’s full payment for a standard life insurance policy. Unity issued the funeral policy, but according to the complaint, Unity’s rules prohibited the company from insuring a single individual under a policy which charged a premium in excess of $75,000. Instead, Unity provided the client with a life policy at the cost of $60,000. According to the complaint, the insurer issued a refund check to the insured in the amount of the $31,000 balance and mailed it to the insured’s residence. The complaint stated that after the insured passed away in 2018, Unity paid policy benefits to the client’s estate. Several months later, a nephew of the deceased client allegedly contacted Unity and inquired about a third life insurance policy. According to the complaint, Unity researched the policy number provided by the nephew, but found no other life insurance policy for the deceased insured. The complaint further stated that investigators determined that $31,000 refund check issued by Unity in 2015 was deposited into Linnell’s account. The investigators allegedly confirmed that the refund amount had not been forwarded to the client and that Unity had not received any additional policy enrollment forms or premium payments on the client’s behalf. Linnell was charged with one count of Insurance Fraud (F3), one count of Theft by Unlawful Taking (F3), one count of Theft by Failure to Make Required Disposition (F3), and one count of Forgery (F3).
On December 22, 2020, Patricia Whitford was arrested in Lycoming County.  According to the criminal complaint, on April 23, 2020 at 4:06 AM, Whitford purchased an automobile insurance policy with the Progressive Insurance Company; her previous vehicle coverage was cancelled on February 20, 2020 for non-payment. At 5:39 AM on April 23, 2020, Whitford called Progressive and allegedly claimed that her vehicle struck a deer approximately 15 minutes after she obtained coverage.  According to the complaint, Whitford provided photos to the insurer which showed moderate damage to the front passenger side of the vehicle and to the windshield.  Investigators obtained a copy of a State Police incident report which allegedly revealed that the crash occurred before Whitford obtained her Progressive policy.  Progressive denied payment of the claim. Whitford was charged with one count of Insurance Fraud (F3) and one count of Criminal Attempt/Theft by Deception (M1).
On December 15, 2020, Laura Paynter was arrested in Philadelphia County.  According to the criminal complaint, on October 22, 2019, Paynter filed a fraudulent insurance claim after her Honda was damaged in a two-vehicle accident. Paynter allegedly added collision coverage to her Esurance vehicle policy at 4:15 PM on October 21, 2019. The policy took effect at 4:26 PM.  According to the complaint, Paynter filed a claim for the accident with Esurance at 7:31 PM on October 22, and stated that the crash had occurred just after 5:00 PM on the previous day. However, the driver of the other involved vehicle allegedly told an Esurance representative that the loss had occurred at 3:18 PM and provided the insurer with date and time-stamped photos taken at the accident scene. According to the complaint, Paynter subsequently admitted during a recorded statement to the insurer that the accident had occurred before she added collision coverage to her policy. Esurance denied the claim.  Paynter was charged with one count of Insurance Fraud (F3), one count of Criminal Use of Communication Facility (F3), and one count of Criminal Attempt/Theft by Deception (F3).
On December 14, 2020, Michael Martin was arrested in Lawrence County.  According to the criminal complaint, on October 22, 2020 at 12:48 PM, Martin’s uninsured vehicle was involved in a serious accident which caused substantial damage to a second vehicle and severely injured its driver. At 1:41 PM, Martin allegedly contacted the Steele Key Insurance Agency and purchased a vehicle policy from Progressive Insurance which included comprehensive/collision coverage and accidental death/funeral benefits.  The policy took effect at 3:36 PM on October 22. According to the complaint, an attorney for the other involved driver filed a claim against the Progressive policy. When Progressive contacted Martin about the accident, Martin allegedly stated that the crash occurred after he had obtained vehicle coverage. However, according to the complaint, the other driver and responding police confirmed that the accident occurred earlier, prior to the inception of Martin’s policy. Progressive denied the claim. Martin was charged with one count of Insurance Fraud (F3) and one count of Criminal Attempt/Theft by Deception (F3).
On December 9, 2020, William Purnell was arrested in Montgomery County.  According to the criminal complaint, at 7:13 AM on November 20, 2019, Purnell went online and purchased a Progressive vehicle policy.  Then at 9:00 AM, Martin allegedly added his girlfriend’s vehicle to the policy. On November 20, 2019, Purnell and his significant other were involved in a two-vehicle crash. According to the criminal complaint, Purnell filed a claim for the accident with Progressive at 12:09 PM on November 20, and stated that the crash had occurred at 9:00 AM that same day while he was driving his girlfriend’s vehicle. According to the complaint, Purnell’s girlfriend, the other driver and responding police all confirmed that the accident had occurred earlier. Progressive allegedly determined that the accident happened prior to the inception of Purnell’s coverage and denied the claim. Purnell was charged with one count of Insurance Fraud (F3), one count of Criminal Use of Communication Facility (F3), and one count of Criminal Attempt/Theft by Deception (F3).
On December 9, 2020, Donavon White was arrested in Mercer County.  According to the complaint, on November 18, 2019, White’s spouse purchased a Kemper Preferred auto policy. On June 3, 2020, Donavan White allegedly reported to the insurer that the couple’s 2012 Dodge Charger struck a deer on June 1, damaging the vehicle’s front end. According to the complaint, Kemper determined that White’s spouse previously filed a claim for deer strike damage to the front end of the same car. Kemper paid $3,524.09 to the Whites for that claim. When a Kemper representative contacted Donavan White about the June 2020 claim, White allegedly maintained that he had the vehicle repaired following the 2019 accident. Kemper retained a Traffic Collision Reconstructionist to review the 2020 claim. The expert allegedly concluded that the damage could not have been caused under the reported circumstances and that the damage appeared to be similar to that of the 2019 claim. According to the complaint, an investigation revealed that the Dodge Charger had not been repaired following the 2019 loss. White was charged with one count of Insurance Fraud (F3), one count of Criminal Attempt/Theft by Deception (F3).
On December 1, 2020, Amanda Otterson was arrested in Chester County. Otterson’s boyfriend, Michael Rodriguez was arrested in Chester County on December 9, 2020. The complaint stated that Rodriguez was involved in a motor vehicle accident on January 4, 2020, at approximately 1:14 PM.  At 5:52 PM, Rodriguez and Ottersen allegedly went online and obtained a GEICO insurance policy for Rodriguez’s vehicle.  The complaint stated that Rodriguez contacted the insurer on January 5 at 10:09 AM and stated that his vehicle was involved in a crash at approximately 6:00 PM on January 4.  Rodriguez and Ottersen allegedly confirmed the 6:00 PM time of loss when they subsequently were interviewed by investigators. During the course of the interview, Ottersen allegedly admitted that she purchased coverage for Rodriguez’s vehicle after the accident occurred and subsequently claimed that the crash happened later.  Rodriguez and Ottersen were each charged with one count of Insurance Fraud (F3), one count of Criminal Attempt/Theft by Deception (F3), one count of Criminal Conspiracy (F3), and one count of Criminal Use of Communication Facility (F3).
On December 2, 2020, Mary Delores English was arrested in Montgomery County.  According to the criminal complaint, English’s car was involved in a hit and run car accident on June 18, 2019.  On June 19, English allegedly obtained a GEICO automobile policy for her vehicle.  On June 21, English allegedly contacted GEICO and claimed that her vehicle had been parked when it was struck at approximately 1:40 AM on June 21.  However, the complaint further stated that investigators obtained a copy of the accident report which confirmed that English’s vehicle was damaged on June 18, the day before she obtained coverage from GEICO. As a result, GEICO denied coverage for the accident.  English was charged with one count of Insurance Fraud (F3), one count of Criminal Attempt/Theft by Deception (M1), and one count of Criminal Use of Communication Facility (F3).
On December 17, 2020, John McDonald was sentenced in Allegheny County after entering an open plea to one count of Theft by Deception (M2).  McDonald obtained an auto policy from Hagerty Insurance which became effective on October 3, 2019. On October 9, McDonald filed a claim with Hagerty in which he stated that his vehicle was damaged on October 6. He claimed that his vehicle went into a ditch after he swerved to avoid hitting a deer. During the claim process, investigators found an old listing of the vehicle on Facebook Marketplace which revealed that the damage claimed by McDonald existed before he bought the vehicle from its prior owner. The investigators also learned that prior to filing the claim, McDonald contacted an auto body shop to find out how much it would cost to repair the damage. When investigators confronted McDonald with their findings, he asked to withdraw his claim. McDonald was sentenced to serve 18 months of probation and was ordered to pay all costs.
On December 4, 2020, Bahram Panahiazar was sentenced in Allegheny County after entering a negotiated plea to    one count of Theft by Deception (M3).   While he was employed as an insurance broker for Western and Southern Financial Group between April 2014 and February 2016, Panahiazar created and submitted approximately 22 fraudulent applications for life insurance. An investigation by the insurer revealed that several applications contained invalid social security numbers and that other applications were submitted purportedly on behalf of deceased “applicants”. Investigators found that another application listed a deceased spouse as a policy beneficiary. Had the insurer not discovered that the aforementioned applications were fraudulent, Panahiazar could have received more than $17,000 in commissions to which he was not entitled. Panahiazar resigned after he was confronted by the insurer. Panahiazar was ordered to pay all court costs.
(ARD) Dispositions

During the month of December, three additional defendants received Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). 

Anti-Fraud Compliance - Reporting of insurance Fraud to Law Enforcement Agency

Pennsylvania Bulletin Notice 2016-04 (issued April 30, 2016) reminded insurers of their obligations to report suspected arson or insurance fraud to law enforcement agencies within the Commonwealth.  The bulletin also announced a decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance to allow licensees to satisfy their reporting obligation when they electronically submit reports of suspected fraud to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
 
On July 6, 2017, Pennsylvania began participating in this online service which enables member companies to electronically forward reports of suspected fraud to the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Section or other appropriate law enforcement agencies at the same time the companies report suspicious claims to the NICB. NOTE: The NICB is not a law enforcement agency. Therefore, a licensee cannot satisfy the fraud reporting requirement by submitting a non-electronic (paper) referral only to the NICB.
 
Important: When utilizing electronic filing through NICB, users should take careful note of the provided instructions regarding the “Party” to a claim.  Information entered about a Party will only be transmitted to law enforcement if users select one of two options: “This Party was subject to an SIU investigation” or “This Party was subject to an enforcement action.”  Some users have missed this notation about individual Party data and consequently have submitted incomplete information to law enforcement.

This newsletter was produced by the PA Office of Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Section and edited by Senior Deputy Attorney General John T. Dickinson.

Copyright © 2018 Office of Attorney General 
All rights reserved.


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