By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — South Florida is no stranger to insurance fraud.
But a recently exposed scam involving public workers is sure to leave taxpayers seething and give Miami-Dade’s bravest a black eye.
Anthony Dorta, a fire inspector with the county’s Fire Rescue Department was arrested last week, accused of submitting a bogus insurance claim.
While claiming he couldn’t work due to a knee injury suffered on the job, Dorta raked in $143,000 in benefits.
But according to a county inspector general’s memo, Dorta also was painting houses and repairing interior walls, and was observed painting the floor of a warehouse by another fire department employee who was conducting an inspection.
James Quiggle, communications director for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit alliance of insurance companies, consumer groups and government agencies, told Watchdog.org the case is not surprising.
“South Florida is one of the nation’s epicenters for insurance fraud,” Quiggle said.
“It’s not unusual for public employees to succumb to the lure of easy money through workers compensation scams. These are a distinct minority among public employees who tend to be very ethical. That said, I no longer blink when I read a news story about another firefighter or policeman who stands accused of fraud and takes a paid vacation courtesy of their employer.”
Officials discovered what would otherwise pass as an isolated one-off while investigating another fire department employee, Jeffrey Lowman.
Lowman, a code enforcement officer, was running a private fire inspection consulting business registered to his home, in addition to his job with the county fire department.
According to a separate IG memo, Lowman’s side business was hired by a property management company to help resolve outstanding code violations. He then filed 10 fraudulent affidavits with the county while hiding his identity from the collections office.
“Lowman’s fraudulent affidavits removed a combined $40,000 in accrued penalties owed the county,” the memorandum states.
“The county does allow for outside employment,” a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General told Watchdog.org. “The employee must make a request and it could be approved as long as it doesn’t conflict with county employment.”
The IG’s office couldn’t say whether Lowman’s fire inspection consulting business was approved.
A joint county-state investigation found Dorta was Lowman’s “handyman” assistant for yet another side business for which Lowman paid Dorta directly.
“Every new corruption case should throw additional ripples of fear and concern through those public employees who think they can get away with this type of crime,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates American families pay about $950 a year because of insurance fraud.
“Insurance fraud extracts (money) from an unfortunately large number of victims who play by the rules,” Quiggle said.