South Florida attorneys, take note: the FBI is watching.
And police sources said more arrests are coming as part of a multiagency investigation into alleged insurance fraud by personal injury attorneys.
The revelation follows the Sept. 6 arrests of five South Florida personal injury attorneys in an insurance fraud sting led by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
Now, the feds have joined the fray and will lead a broader effort involving several law enforcement agencies.
“This is still an ongoing investigation and there will be more arrests made in the future,” said Detective Kristy Frederick, the Broward Sheriff deputy who led the local investigation with Detective Mike Freeley.
Broward deputies teamed with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, which is part of the Organized Crime Unit in the Sheriff’s Office, and with the Department of Financial Services, National Insurance Crime Bureau, the Office of Statewide Prosecution and the Broward State Attorney’s Office.
Meanwhile, new details are emerging about those already caught in the first wave of the sting.
“I have all five of the attorneys that were arrested on audio and video taking monetary kickbacks,” Frederick said.
Arrested were attorneys Vincent Pravato and Mark Spatz of Davie, Adam Hurtig of Fort Lauderdale, Alexander Kapetan Jr. of Lighthouse Point and Steven Slootsky of Boca Raton. Most face a slew of felony charges over allegations they paid for referrals from tow truck drivers, auto repair employees and others with access to car accident reports.
Prosecutors allege the lawyers then used these referrals with two medical practices—Margate Physicians and Broward Spine Associates in Plantation—to make fraudulent motor vehicle tort and personal injury protection, or PIP, claims.
Both medical practices closed last year, but Frederick said no charges are pending against staff.
One of the defendants, Hurtig, reportedly had a fee-splitting agreement that diverted some of his clients’ settlement funds, according to court documents in support of the arrest warrant.
Hurtig, of the Hurtig Law Group, was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1997 and has no disciplinary history in the past 10 years.
But investigators allege he participated in a long-term fraud against clients and insurance carriers that led to 14 felony charges against him. He faces 11 counts of patient brokering and one count each of money laundering, organized scheme to defraud and unlawful use of a two-way communication device.
“Attorney Adam Hurtig not only engaged in the illegal solicitation and brokering of his clients, but … he took the criminal activity further by misappropriating his clients’ settlement funds,” Frederick wrote. “Hurtig took part in an ongoing course of conduct with the intent to defraud his clients, whereby he engaged in an undisclosed split-fee arrangement with Broward Spine Associates and/or Margate Physicians, and covertly accepted a portion of his clients’ settlement funds as kickbacks.”
Hurtig allegedly used money from his clients’ settlements to pay their medical bills, but Broward Spine Associates and Margate Physicians secretly returned half to the attorney, according to investigators.
Fort Lauderdale defense lawyer Bruce A. Zimet represents Hurtig. He did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
“This investigation revealed that several legal and medical professionals throughout South Florida have been using the PIP insurance coverage to enrich themselves by exploiting victims of motor vehicle accidents,” Frederick wrote.
Investigators say in most cases, the personal injury lawyers paid accomplices $500 to $1,500 per client to refer “unsuspecting vehicle accident victims” to make insurance claims.
None of the arrested attorneys has any history of disciplinary action in the last 10 years, according to their Florida Bar records.
Slootsky, of Steven E. Slootsky P.A., was admitted to the bar in 1985. He faces 15 felonies: organized crime to defraud, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, three counts of solicitation and 10 counts of patient brokering.
Spatz, of Simons & Spatz, was admitted to the bar in 1987. The 13 felony charges against him: communications fraud, unlawful use of a two-way communication device and 11 counts of patient brokering.
Kapetan, of Wites & Kapetan, has been a member of the bar since 1999. He faces 10 felonies: conspiracy to commit patient brokering, unlawful use of a two-way communication device and eight counts of patient brokering. His attorney, Eric Schwartzreich of Schwartzreich & Associates in Fort Lauderdale, said Kapetan committed no crime.
Pravato, of Wolf and Pravato, was admitted to the bar in 1996. He faces three felonies: communications fraud, unlawful use of a two-way communication device and patient brokering.
The organized crime unit in the Sheriff’s Office and the Division of Investigative & Forensic Services investigated several attorneys from May 2015 to December 2016. The alleged fraud reportedly yielded more than $521,000 during that period.