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Fake accidents cost insurance industry billions each year, experts say

Whenever Doris Maxey backs out of a parking spot, she honks her horn as a warning.

“I am very cautious,” Maxey, 90, said. “I honk, and I look and look, because I don't want to run over my postman.”

Like always, Maxey gave a little honk while she was backing out of a parking space at CVS Pharmacy, 5025 N May, one day in January 2014.

Maxey backed up, came to a stop and changed gears to pull forward. It was then that Latroy Staglin, of Oklahoma City, pulled the 2014 Nissan Maxima he was driving behind Maxey and hit her car, according to court affidavits.

The impact was so minor, Maxey didn't even feel it.

“Then he drove his car up beside me in the parking lot and told me it was my fault,” Maxey said. “With older people, they are afraid they will lose their driver's license.”

Staglin had gold teeth and was exceedingly polite.

He told Maxey that he had just received the Maxima as a graduation present — a lie. He also gave her a fake name — Dominique Shannon — as well as a fake insurance policy number.

Although Maxey suspected nothing at the time of the accident, she was just one Staglin's many victims.

“I found out this wasn't his first time at the rodeo,” Maxey said.

Over a period of several years, Staglin staged minor wrecks in store parking lots all over Oklahoma City to collect money from false insurance claims.

“He would go in and set up surveillance in parking lots and he would look for elderly people coming out of the stores,” said Abby Dillsaver, deputy Oklahoma attorney general.

In some instances, Staglin would even rent cars to use in staged crashes and he also once used his sister's car to cause a parking lot fender bender, Dillsaver said.

Staglin's activities eventually raised red flags with insurers. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit that works with law enforcement to identify insurance fraud, discovered links between Staglin and numerous car accidents in Oklahoma City by using sophisticated software designed to detect insurance fraud.

The Oklahoma Attorney General's workers' compensation, Social Security and insurance fraud unit then launched an investigation into Staglin's activities.

Using a series of fake names, Staglin pocketed thousands of dollars in insurance claim money.

“The damage amounts were always small enough to not cause concern for the insurance company,” Dillsaver said.

Expensive problem

Auto insurance fraud is a growing problem for both insurance companies, and policyholders.

Property/casualty insurance fraud amounts to about $32 billion a year, according to industry estimates gathered by the Insurance Information Institute.

Fraud accounts for 5 to 10 percent of claims costs for insurers in the United States and Canada. About 32 percent of insurers say fraud was as high as 20 percent of claims costs.

“Set up wrecks generate billions of dollars in false bogus insurance claims every year,” said Jim Quiggle, spokesman for the national Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. “They drive up auto premiums for all drivers because the costs just get passed along.”

Wreck artists who stage car accidents for the insurance claims typically make most of their money from fake injury claims, Quiggle said.

“Whiplash is the lifeblood of fake claims,” he said.

Claim fraud and inflated claims added between $5.6 billion and $7.7 billion in excess payments to auto injury claims paid in the United States in 2012, according to a study released by the Insurance Research Council in 2015.

“Wreck artists may target seniors, or less-capable drivers who are more prone to getting into accidents,” he said. “Busy mothers with kids in their cars, or drivers talking on their cellphones are often also targeted because they look busy or distracted and could be easier to maneuver into a wreck.”

Motorists can guard themselves against staged accidents by avoiding distractions like talking on a cellphone while driving, Quiggle said.

Dillsaver advises drivers who are involved in an accident to use a cellphone to take pictures of everything at the scene, including any damage and the tag number of the other motorist's car.

“Ask to see their proof of insurance,” Dillsaver said. “Staglin was just writing his information down for victims and that allowed him to give fake information.”

Lengthy prison term

Investigators handling Maxey's case asked her to identify Staglin from a photo lineup.

“I recognized him from his two bottom gold teeth sticking out,” she said.

In July, Staglin was sentenced to 18 years in state prison after he was convicted of nine felony counts of submitting false claims for insurance.

Staglin has a history of similar previous criminal offenses. He was convicted on separate felony charges of submitting false insurance claims in 2011 and 2009, and has convictions related to writing bogus checks dating to 2006, according to court documents.

Because Staglin had a lengthy criminal history, he could have faced up to life in prison in this most recent case, said Robert Sisson, an attorney who represented Staglin in the 2016 case.

The prosecution initially asked Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves for a 20-year prison sentence. Staglin entered a blind guilty plea.

“If he behaves himself in prison, he will probably do six or seven years of it,” Sisson said.

Sisson said he does not know what motivated Staglin to continue to stage car accidents even after two prior convictions.

According to a sentencing report submitted to the court, Staglin had a history of drug and alcohol addiction and also was trying to provide money to support his 7-year old son through the staging of car wrecks. The child lived with Staglin's parents at the time of his sentencing. Staglin's wife, the mother of the child, died in 2014, according to the report.

“I want to graduate college and go back to college and buy a house for me and my son and have a career and live life right drug free and take care of my family the right way and get back to church,” Staglin wrote in the sentencing report.

It's possible that Staglin will re-offend, even after serving his prison sentence, Sisson said.

“It's not really my place to say, but a psychologist would tell you that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,” Sisson said.

Maxey said her car sustained only a minor scratch in the accident. However, her run-in with Staglin has made her more jumpy and less trusting.

“I was not hurt, except it did make me excited,” Maxey said. “I said to myself it could have been a real wreck. Worse things happen to older people all the time.”

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              <span class="bold">LaTroy Staglin</span>

LaTroy Staglin

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›