16 charged in alleged Southern California insurance fraud

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Ten lawyers and six others were charged Monday in a multimillion-dollar workers’ compensation fraud scheme that authorities say targeted Latinos in California.

The charges were filed after a three-year investigation into a scheme involving the illegal recruitment of more than 30,000 patients and $300 million in billing to workers’ compensation insurance, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.

Under the alleged fraud, prosecutors said recruiters set up an illegal network called Centro Legal Internacional that advertised in Spanish language publications, at swap meets and on the U.S.-Mexico border to drum up business from patients.

Those who called a toll-free number were routed to an El Salvador-based call center that later dispatched recruiters to patients’ homes and had them sign paperwork binding them to an attorney and doctors in a referral network before they consulted with a lawyer, authorities said.

Patients were sent to unnecessary medical appointments, and attorneys were bound to use a copying service run by the recruiting network, authorities said.

“This type of fraud factory drives up the cost (of insurance) and drives businesses out of California,” Rackauckas said at a news conference. “People who live in poor neighborhoods should not be exploited. They shouldn’t be used as ATM machines. They shouldn’t be victimized by unscrupulous lawyers and doctors.”

Some patients attended so many medical appointments “it almost became a full-time job for them,” Rackauckas said.

It is illegal for lawyers and doctors to retain recruiters to generate business under such a scheme, authorities said.

No one answered a phone number listed online for Centro Legal.

Authorities said they received a tip about the case from an insurance carrier in 2014.

No charges were filed Monday against doctors. Authorities said that portion of the case remains under investigation.