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Phila. Man Held in Alleged Plan to Bilk Insurers: He is Charged With Filing Phony Claims of Auto Vandalism and Committing Identity Theft.

Nov 13, 2007

By Michael Matza, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Nov. 14--For a time, the alleged scam seems to have worked.

A Frankford man is accused of bilking Pennsylvania auto insurers out of $29,000 in 17 false claims of vandalism between February 2002 and May 2003 by using fraudulently obtained policies on vehicles he registered in his name and the name of a person whose identity he stole, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Insurance Fraud Unit announced yesterday.

An additional 45 claims, worth more than $120,000, were fraudulently sought but ultimately denied, investigators said.

Authorities charged Keith Lewis, 41, of the 5400 block of Erdrick Street, with deploying a car and three SUVs -- including a 2000 Toyota Camry owned by his girlfriend, who was not charged -- to orchestrate the scheme, which began after he provided initial premium payments drawn on a bank account without sufficient money.

He then filed claims for minor damage and sought to collect before the insurers realized the initial payments were no good, investigators said.

The 163-count arrest sheet includes charges of insurance fraud, theft by deception, identity theft, and falsification of documents.

To accomplish the identity theft, said Linda Perkins, chief of the Insurance Fraud Unit, Lewis used a driver's license stolen in 2002 from a Philadelphia man who was unaware that his identity had been compromised.

In some instances, Lewis filed claims on preexisting damage, investigators said.

Among the targets of the plan were Pennsylvania's largest auto insurers, including AIG, Allstate, Geico, Progressive, Safe Auto, Safeco and Unitrin Direct.

"In all instances, he sought a quick settlement of the claim, clearly in an effort to obtain payment before the insurance company discovered that they had not received a valid premium payment," District Attorney Lynne Abraham and Perkins said in a joint statement.

Lewis, awaiting arraignment, could not be reached for comment.

After Lewis allegedly obtained four policies from Progressive and quickly filed damage claims -- asserting the vehicles had been vandalized or struck while on the street -- Progressive caught on, denied the claims, and reported the matters to the District Attorney's Office.

Authorities say Lewis used a variety of stories, sometimes passing himself off to the insurers as a police officer, an accountant, a bounty hunter, a bank manager, a salesman or an entertainment-industry employee.

"In an effort to expedite one of his many claims, Lewis posed as a soldier . . . facing immediate deployment overseas," even though he is not in the U.S. military, the complaint alleges.

Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or mmatza@phillynews.com.

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