An Essex County sheriff’s deputy and a Lawrence police officer have been disciplined for their roles in providing auto accident reports to a Lawrence chiropractic clinic caught in an auto insurance fraud crackdown.
Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Howard and officer Ivan Resto, who are friends and roommates, have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, but each received five-day suspensions without pay from their respective jobs, The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover reported.
Resto provided the accident reports to Howard, who sold the reports to Health Group of New England for $40, according to investigators. Chiropractor and clinic operator Sean Nisivoccia, 33, of New Jersey, was charged last month with submitting fraudulent bills to an insurance company for treatment of four people who staged a phony crash in Methuen last June.
Charges were later filed against an accused “runner,” who was allegedly paid by the clinic to plan staged accidents and recruit patients who filed phony injury claims.
Investigators at the Essex County district attorney’s office found that Howard was dating a Health Group employee when he was asked by clinic personnel to bring them accident reports with names of injured passengers who might become patients.
Lawrence Police Chief John J. Romero, who has spearheaded a crackdown on auto accident insurance fraud, said he saw no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Resto, but confirmed the incident was still the subject of an investigation to determine whether he or other police personnel provided more reports.
“We don’t know whether these accidents were staged or legitimate,” Romero said. “All we know at this point is that five accident reports from late last year were obtained under circumstances that violated department policy.”
A police investigation found no evidence that Resto knew the reports were going to a chiropractor or that he knew that Howard was paid for them.
“I’m certainly not happy with the officer’s conduct in this matter. While his conduct is not criminal, it has portrayed the department in a negative light, and we will not tolerate this,” Romero said.
The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover was unable to reach Howard or Resto for comment. Telephone messages left at their workplaces were not returned.
Howard’s suspension was continued for six months and can be dismissed if the deputy doesn’t commit similar violations or other misconduct, according to Paul Fleming Jr., a spokesman for Sheriff Frank G. Cousins Jr.
As part of the disciplinary action, the deputy must attend a seminar on ethics and standards of conduct sponsored by the state Ethics Commission.
“The sheriff felt clearly that the alleged activity was a serious breach of protocol and represented a potential source of legal liability and embarrassment for the department,” Fleming said.
Lawrence is considered to one of the nation’s top hotspots for auto insurance fraud, ranking with large urban centers like New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Boston, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which is based in Palos Hills, Ill.
Romero initiated an auto insurance fraud task force after a 65-year-old Lawrence grandmother was killed last fall in a staged accident police said she helped plan.
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