Operation Sledgehammer VI Catches Two More in Staged Car Accident Scheme

Operation Sledgehammer, a federal investigation named for the preferred ‘tool-of-choice’ that conspirators used in an automobile insurance fraud scheme involving staged car accidents and fake insurance claims, has prevailed again over two more defendants.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra handed down sentences to Maykel Marquez, 32, of Jupiter, and Noelia Marichal, 52, of West Palm Beach, for their connection to the fraudulent scheme. Each had previously pled guilty to one count of conspiring to commit mail fraud; in addition, Marquez pled guilty to multiple counts of money laundering.

A steady stream of court cases has revealed that between roughly October 2006 and December 2012, accomplices in the scheme, often referred to as “Perro” and “Perra” or “Macho” and “Hembra” by the conspirators, were recruited to participate in fake car accidents and launder insurance money.

According to court documents, the extensive scheme was carried out by chiropractic clinics controlled by members of the conspiracy. They recruited individuals, with necessary medical or chiropractic licenses, who could open a clinic and act as “nominee owners.” Conspirators also hired chiropractors and therapists willing to prescribe and bill for treatments that were unnecessary or never provided to the ‘victims’ who were sent to these clinic after the staged accidents. Complicit employees then submitted false claims to the insurance companies for payment. Once insurance money was received, additional accomplices laundered the insurance money.

Sentencing documents show that Marquez cashed checks worth $568,517.23, while Marichal cashed $101,344.26 to launder insurance proceeds.

Starting with Operation Sledgehammer I in June 2011 and including Marquez and Marichal, accused in Operation Sledgehammer VI, 92 defendants have been charged thus far for their participation, according to a news release issued by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office-Southern District of Florida.

Of those 92 defendants, 56 have been charged federally by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, resulting in court-ordered restitution of more than $5 million to the defrauded insurance companies. Thirty-six defendants have been charged by the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office alone. In all, 21 clinics participated in this scheme.

Marquez was sentenced to 58 months, followed by two years of supervised release. He was ordered to pay $1,177,775.04 in restitution. Marichal received a sentence of 48 months, followed by two years of supervised release and $1,359,208.73 in restitution, the news release reported.

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