Adjusters and Contractors Sentenced To Probation, Ordered to Make $248,000 in Forfeitures for Kickbacks

NEW YORK, NY (12/15/2008)(readMedia)-- Four insurance adjusters and three contractors were ordered to make forfeitures totaling $248,000 on Dec. 2 after pleading guilty to kickbacks made possible by inflating insurance claims on properties in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Two other men are still to be sentenced.

Appearing in New York State Supreme Court, the adjusters admitted accepting cash payments, as well as gifts and other gratuities, from the contractors in return for approving inflated repair estimates submitted by the contractors.

Investigators said the contractors inflated the cost of repairs so they could keep a portion of the proceeds themselves and give part of the money to adjusters. In some cases, adjusters accepted such things as golf outings, golf equipment or dinners.

The adjusters would then approve the inflated estimates as reasonable and pass them onto for payment to Chubb & Son, a division of Federal Insurance Company. Three of the four adjusters implicated were employed by Chubb. Investigators said the kickbacks were sometimes initiated by the contractors and, at other times, initiated by the adjusters.

The kickbacks - which are believed to have totaled an estimated $1 million -- involved claims on approximately 10 properties. In addition to the court-ordered forfeitures, contractors have already returned $600,000 to Chubb.

The three Chubb adjusters, who pleaded guilty to felony criminal bribe receiving and insurance fraud, were each sentenced to five years' probation, in addition to the following forfeitures: Stephen Curtis, 51, of 48 Lyle Ct., Staten Island; $70,000; James Cassino, 31, of 2357 E. 70th St., Brooklyn, $60,000; and John Occhiogrosso, 51, of 2310 Ocean Pkwy., Brooklyn, $13,000.

The fourth adjuster, Joseph Fonte, 45, of 341 Brighton St., Staten Island, is a public adjuster with no affiliation to Chubb. He was granted a one-year conditional discharge and ordered to make a $5,000 forfeiture after pleading guilty to two counts of commercial bribery.

The contractors sentenced, and the forfeitures they were ordered to make, are Arie Malina, 57, of 27 Valley Green Dr., Valley Stream, NY, $75,000 and five years' probation for pleading guilty to insurance fraud and commercial bribing; Fabio Scala, 34, of 33 Gold St., New York, $25,000, for pleading guilty to insurance fraud and commercial bribery; and Sergio Almada, 37, of 22 Orange Rd., Montclair, NJ, conditional discharge, for pleading guilty to falsifying business records.

A fifth adjustor, John Brady, 45, of 50-27 59th Place, Woodside in Queens, is scheduled for sentencing Jan. 13. He pleaded guilty to commercial bribe receiving. The sentencing of Joseph Trovato, 50, a contractor, of 16234 91St., Howard Beach, Queens, was adjourned until Feb. 3. He pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and commercial bribery.

The nine men were arrested after an investigation begun when Chubb noticed irregularities in claims involving the adjusters and contractors. At the same time, the company had been contacted by another contractor who was not implicated in the schemes. That contractor complained that he had been approached by Curtis who wanted "10 points," or $3,750, as a kickback for a $37,500 repair project he was working on at a Park Avenue condominium.

Chubb asked the New York State Insurance Department and the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau to look into the case after its own investigation that included re-inspecting the properties tied to the claims.

Four of the adjusters, Curtis, Occhiogrosso, Cassino and Brady, were hired by Chubb after they had been employed previously by another insurance company. Curtis resigned from Chubb when the investigation began. The other three Chubb adjusters were fired. Fonte was a public adjuster, hired by individual consumers filing insurance claims with Chubb.

The adjusters are all licensed by the Insurance Department. Their licenses are subject to revocation as a result of the criminal convictions.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos prosecuted the case. Rosalind Thomas investigated for the Insurance Department's Frauds Bureau.