Feds End 21-Year Reign of Insurance Fraud 'King'
Tom Hays, The Associated Press
On the night of July 16, 2000, police arrived at the scene of one of
Quentin Hawkins' "movies."
Two banged-up cars sat on a Brooklyn street where an open fire
hydrant spit out water. Drivers and passengers reported that one car
had gone out of control on the slick pavement and sideswiped the
But that hadn't happened. The wreck wasn't real: All of the
"victims," including an off-duty cop, were used by Hawkins in the
biggest staged-accident scheme in state history.
Hawkins, 53, of Brooklyn, produced and directed perhaps hundreds of
car accidents over two decades before federal agents broke up his
ring and began bringing its members to court this year. His
demolition derby, authorities say, was a major part of a costly
epidemic in auto insurance fraud and set a new standard for the
hustlers known as "runners."
"He was, in a real sense, the king of the runners," Assistant U.S.
Attorney Daniel R. Alonso said when Hawkins, nicknamed "Flint," was
sentenced last month to five years and four months in prison.
Hawkins' cast of con men featured his two adult children, a
girlfriend half his age, crooked cops, a failed professional wrestler
and regulars at a Brooklyn bowling alley called Melody Lanes.
One of the police officers, Edwin DeLoatch, was convicted this month
of helping Hawkins orchestrate the two-car accident in Brooklyn in
exchange for an envelope stuffed with an undisclosed amount of cash,
slipped to him at Melody Lanes. He faces a three-year, seven-month
Also among the 67 defendants named in federal complaint was the
manager of a medical clinic, Garri Zhigun. He awaits trial in
December for allegedly billing insurance companies for unnecessary
physical and psychiatric therapy.
Other medical clinics and law practices remain under investigation.
"Cases of this kind prove that greed knows no bounds," Gregory Serio,
superintendent of the New York Insurance Department, said after
Hawkins thrived in an underworld populated by shady personal-injury
lawyers and medical clinic operators who rely on runners to profit
from false negligence and no-fault claims.
The corrupt clinics exploit New York's no-fault law, which requires
insurance companies to pay up to $ 50,000 per person for medical
cost, lost wages and other expenses.
After refusing treatment at the scene, fake victimes receive
kickbacks from the clinics for seeking treatment for head, back and
neck pain, or other "soft-tissue injuries" that are difficult to
After receiving unnecessary treatment, some phony victims file
lawsuits demanding damages for pain and suffering. The suits can reap
New York insurance officials estimate that no-fault claims from
staged accidents amount to tens of millions of dollars each year in
the state, and hundreds of millions nationwide. As a result, they
say, the state has some of the highest auto insurance rates in the
How Hawkins ended up launching his lucrative career as a runner
remains unclear. But his girlfriend testified that he boasted that
he'd been at it for 21 years. At Melody Lanes, Hawkins stood out from
the blue-collar crowd.
"Flint Hawkins is the kind of guy who drives a nice big car," said
Steven Brounstein, an attorney for DeLoatch. "He wears nice jewelry.
He's a big talker."
When Hawkins talked to his fellow bowlers about an easy way to make
quick cash, they listened.
The king of the runners collected up to $ 2,000 in kickbacks per car
accident "victim" he delivered to clinics. He used middlemen to help
recruit and direct drivers and passengers to have deliberate,
low-impact collisions; the fake victims received about $ 200 each and
the chance to file lawsuits.
In some cases, Hawkins went a step further.
He bribed another police officer, Rodney Hawkins, to write fake
reports, eliminating the need for the usual theatrics. The officer
pleaded guilty to charges he wrote at least seven bogus accident
reports involving a total of 37 people claiming to have been injured
by phantom hit-and-run drivers.
An FBI wiretap on Hawkins' cell phone revealed that the ring relied
on code: The scripted accidents were "movies," cars were "cans," and
patients were "pineapples" who needed to go to "fruit stands," or
Hawkins was clear about who was boss.
"There is only one chief, and I'm the chief," he said in a taped
conversation with one of his minions. "And you do it my way."
Hawkins got away with his staged-accident scheme until authorities
received a tip about another of his scams.
Parents of children who were tested for lead poisoning reported that
health care workers were harassing them by trying to steer them to
certain medical clinics.
Using wiretaps, investigators uncovered Hawkins' plot to pay more
than $ 10,000 in bribes to hospital employees for the names of the
children, as well as people injured in car accidents.
Authorities also heard something else: Hawkins congratulating
DeLoatch for staging a car crash on a street with an open fire
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"I never would have thought of that," Hawkins said. "That was very ingenious."