TAMPA, Fla. - Tampa Police and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office arrested four people Friday, accused of staging car crashes and filing false insurance claims. They're still looking for three more.
Altogether, they have warrants for seven people who worked with Heisha Medical Clinic on Habana Avenue in Tampa.
Deputies arrested the clinic manager, Reinier Prieto Santurio, Friday morning. When they showed up to the clinic later to arrest the others, no one was there. They believe Santurio somehow tipped them off.
HCSO got a tip in early August and sent two undercover detectives to begin work with the clinic.
"At one point, got one of our undercover detectives involved in a fake crash, a staged crash," said HCSO Spokesperson Cristal Bermudez-Nunez. "At other times maybe they received a five-minute massage and still were signing that paperwork saying it was an hour-and-a-half long."
Today, after about five months of work, detectives believed they had enough information to make seven arrests, including Jose Victores Ruiz, Jesus Fernandez, and Ana Belen Valdes.
All are charged with engaging in what HCSO calls a lucrative crime clinic posing as physical therapy.
"Personal injury protection is $10,000, so if you get 3 jump-ins in a staged accident, or four, you're talking $40,000 easy, just out of one vehicle," said Jorge Santamaria of Infinity Auto Insurance. "The amount of money is astronomical if you think about it. It's going to be somewhere between half million and million dollar per clinic that's operating in this fraudulent way."
It's insurance fraud shared by all drivers at the rate of about $50 per insurance policy, inflated by all the clinics detectives have yet to bust.
"There are quite a few out there and we know that because of the cost of the premiums that we all pay," Santamaria said. "The only way we can reduce that is to have an impact on the fraud problem."