Fugitive Sought in Alleged Insurance Scam Arrested

By | September 16, 2004

An international manhunt for a fugitive sought in an alleged $20 million nationwide insurance fraud has ended with his arrest in Canada, according to federal and state authorities in California.

A federal complaint filed in Sacramento charges the 58-year-old man using the alias Robert Lewis Brown with conspiracy, mail fraud, money laundering, and making false statements.

Authorities said even that name is fake, assumed a decade ago from a man of the same age who died three years ago in Las Vegas. Brown’s wife, who has not been charged, is believed to also be using an assumed name, Shirley Darlene Whitaker.

“We don’t know who he is,” said Patty Pontello, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Brown was traveling in Canada when he was picked up by the Toronto Metropolitan Fugitive Squad on immigration charges and a U.S. arrest warrant.

He most recently had been living in Ireland and Barbados. Authorities have frozen his foreign bank accounts and are trying to freeze his property there and in St. Vincent and the Grenedines as they seek his extradition to Sacramento.

The arrest ends an effort by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and California Department of Insurance to shut down the alleged insurance scam operated through two companies in St. Vincent and the Grenedines, a Caribbean nation of 30 islands and uninhabited cays.

Tri-Continental Exchange Ltd. and Combines Services Ltd. collected $20 million in premiums from customers nationwide since January 2000 for insurance policies they falsely claimed were backed by a collection of real insurance companies, authorities allege.

Customers were told to send payments to post office boxes in Phoenix, Ariz. The money was forwarded first to St. Vincent and the Grenedines, then to a bank account in Blaine, Wash., with some of the money siphoned off to foreign bank accounts, authorities allege.

Prosecutors said at least eight U.S. states and Canada have ordered the companies to stop selling insurance in the last eight years, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. obtained a federal preliminary injunction against the companies in 2001 for trademark infringement.

The conspiracy, mail fraud and false statements charges carry maximum five-year penalties, while money laundering has a maximum 20-year penalty.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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