When California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) member and California Department of Insurance (CDI) Detective Wenifred Smith found a box of insurance claim forms dropped on his desk by private insurance companies that suspected fraud, he went to work. For two and a-half years he fact-checked, interviewed and investigated. Never, in his tedious, complex investigation, did he imagine he would untangle a web of at least eight fraudulent family members in Southern California scamming insurance companies and the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"This was a significant case," said CDI Captain Yvette Cordero. "I am very proud of him."
Detective Smith, slowly and methodically, went through each claim to determine if the person on the claim was real, if the person did not exist, or if the name on the claim was someone whose identity had been stolen. Search and arrest warrants took him to homes in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.
After Detective Smith's lengthy investigation, Vessie Philips, Mary Bizor and Hollisha Dunbar are accused of opening insurance policies for themselves and for people who did not exist and filing claims about fake injuries with forms filled out by fake doctors. In other words, the doctors didn't exist. And in fact, many of the injuries listed on the claims, signed by supposed doctors, were misspelled.
Investigators believe Phililps was the ring leader and once she begin cashing in and getting away with it, other family members followed suit, to the tune of $270,000. Investigators also believe the women were stealing from the government by exploiting a government-funded in-home care program. The women allegedly posed as caregivers and collected monthly checks. The people they allegedly cared for did not exist or in one case, the patient they said they were caring for, was dead.
Detective Smith has worked as a CDI investigator for nearly six years. Prior to his investigative work at CDI, he worked at the Department of Justice as a criminal intelligence specialist. He defines his job as a "different kind of cops and robbers," and is happy to have caught the suspects in this case before they were able to move on to another type of fraud.
"Once a person determines that they are able to defraud, they are going to do it again, just from somebody else, because they want money," said Captain Cordero. Cordero believes CDI detectives made the arrests before another scam, by this ring of women, unfolded.
"Our CSLEA members who investigate crimes often spend years investigating individual cases," said CSLEA President Alan Barcelona. "Their dedication, their commitment, their investigative knowledge is second to none. To Detective Smith and all those who worked on this case, what a job well done."
Watch Fox 11 Investigative Reporter Gina Silva confront the suspects.