Fugitive from Columbia arrested in Calif. Suspect was topic of 'America's Most Wanted' segment


A former Columbia man sought for nearly two years in connection with an insurance scheme that bilked doctors nationwide of almost $10 million was arrested by the FBI in a ritzy San Diego suburb, authorities said yesterday.

The suspect, Norman Bramson, 70, was confronted by FBI agents Wednesday at a condominium in La Jolla, Calif., where he was living, said Special Agent Andy Manning, spokesman for the FBI office in Baltimore.

The fugitive's cover was blown Tuesday night when the popular crime show "America's Most Wanted" aired a segment about the insurance scheme, Mr. Bramson and his son Martin Bramson -- whom the FBI alleges to be the ringleader in the scam -- said Danny O. Coulson, special agent in charge of the Maryland-Delaware Division of the FBI.

"This is a very significant break in the case," Mr. Manning said. "They did more damage to more people than perhaps any other white-collar crime case I know of."

Two people who knew Norman Bramson socially in the La Jolla area called the FBI's San Diego Office immediately after the program to say a man they knew as "Nick Volpe" bore a striking likeness to a photograph of one suspect in the show, Mr. #F Manning said.

FBI agents staked out the condominium for several hours Wednesday before confronting Mr. Bramson, a balding man with a mustache and dour face.

Six people already have been convicted in Maryland in connection with the insurance scheme.

Norman Bramson has been the target of an international manhunt since October 1991, when he disappeared after pleading guilty to charges that he had carried about $70,000 across the U.S.-Canadian border without declaring it.

The suspect, a former optometrist, will be brought by U.S. marshals to Baltimore for trial in U.S. District Court after hearings in San Diego.

Geoffrey Garinther, an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore who has worked on the case, said the suspect should arrive in Baltimore in early August for an arraignment.

Mr. Bramson's 47-year-old son, Martin, a former pharmacist and law school graduate, remains at large. He also disappeared in October 1991 after being indicted in New Jersey in connection with the insurance scheme.

FBI authorities believe he may have fled the country. He is being sought on money laundering and mail fraud charges.

Norman Bramson faces a federal grand jury indictment on conspiracy to commit mail fraud and launder money, Mr. Garinther said.

He said the nationwide insurance scheme allegedly operated for about nine months out of an office on Dorsey Hall Road in Columbia -- and before that in Greenbelt. The prosecutor contends the operation pitched medical malpractice and other liability policies to physicians nationwide using the mail, phone and trade journals.

Eventually the operation, which started in the early 1980s, branched out, selling bogus insurance to other businesses, Mr. Garinther said.

It allegedly used more than 50 bogus insurance company names and marketed more than 1,000 policies to physicians who were considered high-risk insurance customers. Other doctors bought policies because they were about 30 percent less expensive than customary, Mr. Garinther said.

"They did what they had to do to avoid paying out on claims, from disbanding the company to leaving no assets for litigants to collect judgments from," Mr. Garinther said. "The fraud was that they never intended to pay real claims."

To hide money collected from the billings, the operation allegedly set up more than 200 domestic and foreign bank accounts. About $5 million has been recovered from some of those accounts, prosecutors say.

Carmina Hughes, another assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore working on the case, said, "The people who have really been hurt by this are the people who filed claims" against doctors.

"There was more than one doctor who went into bankruptcy as a result of having to pay judgments for which there was no insurance coverage," Mr. Garinther said. About $60 million in claims were filed against the policies, Ms. Hughes said.

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