Eleven people, including a state prison guard, have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of faking accidents to cheat insurance companies of more than $600,000.
The U.S. attorney's office announced the indictments Wednesday as part of a continuing investigation into auto insurance fraud.
It is the second major investigation into such fraud this year by authorities in Maryland. The state attorney general's office conducted a sting operation that resulted in charges in March against Baltimore lawyer Nelson R. Kandel.
U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett noted that the federal investigation was separate from the Maryland attorney general's probe, but said his office "intends to give this kind of activity close vigilance."
Federal prosecutors have filed charges of mail fraud, aiding and abetting and money laundering against the defendants. Authorities said the participants either staged or scripted accidents and submitted claims to insurance companies for injuries supposedly sustained by drivers and passengers.
Most used aliases to carry out the scheme, court papers said. In one faked accident, prosecutors said, a claimant used phony identities to collect money as the drivers of both cars and three fictitious passengers.
The investigation began in the spring of 1991 when Baltimore County police executed a search warrant on another matter and found documents used in the scheme, said prosecutor Jamie M. Bennett, who coordinated the federal probe.
Ms. Bennett alleged that the scheme was masterminded by Thomas Aboraah, 35, and Kwame Awua Adjei, 34, both fugitives; Victor Osei-Boateng, 33, of the 2400 block of Gainesbrough Court; and Nana Yaw Asamoah-Mensah, 33, of Herndon, Va. All are natives of Ghana.
Ms. Bennett said they had used phony birth certificates to obtain driver's licenses, Social Security cards and credit cards.
She said the government believes that Mr. Aboraah and Mr. Adjei fled the United States for Ghana when they learned they were being investigated. Two others indicted -- Emmanuel Ampofo, 30, of Baltimore and Samuel Mensah, 33, of Glenelg -- also are fugitives.
Mr. Asamoah-Mensah, who was preparing to take medical board exams in Virginia when he was indicted, has been released on his own recognizance. Mr. Osei-Boateng has been placed at a halfway house.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Catherine C. Blake on Wednesday ordered Francis C. Mensah, 34, of the 4700 block of Parkside Drive held pending a detention hearing. Released on personal recognizance were Prince Robert Odiko, 37, of the 3700 block of Elmley Ave., a guard at the Maryland Correctional Institute at Jessup, and Denise Sampson, 28, of Baltimore.
Authorities said another suspect, Brenda Whitt, 35, of the 5100 block of Denview Way, has agreed to surrender. Patrick Bawuah, 32, of the 600 block of Sopwith Drive, is being sought in New York.
According to court papers, $629,650 in bogus claims were paid by the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, Allstate Insurance Co., Excelsior Insurance Co. and Erie Insurance Co. between November 1987 and June 1990.
The indictments said the men visited doctors and other health care professionals to get treatment for soft-tissue injuries they claimed were caused by the accidents. Medical bills for those visits were then sent to the insurance companies.
The indictments also charge that Mr. Aboraah, Mr. Osei-Boateng and Mr. Asamoah-Mensah laundered money through fake companies established to facilitate the scheme. The names used for the companies included Atlantic Import & Export Exchange, Intercontinental Business Consultants, Diversified Realty and ARA Medical Rents.
Also, the indictments said, theft claims were submitted to insurance for property that was never owned.
Assisting in the investigation were the Postal Service, the Secret Service, the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Baltimore and Baltimore County police departments.