The Racket Club

There's good money to be made in the game of insurance fraud. Maybe that's why some greedy people are so willing to hustle for clients, fake injuries, stage car accidents, and tell lies.

"Is this Luis?"
"Yes," Luis Rangel answers.
"Hi," says Patty Rodriguez. "Do you remember who I am?"

"Of course I remember you," Rangel responds. "I don't forget a beautiful voice."

"Thank you," Rodriguez says demurely. "I was calling about what you told me."

"Uh huh."
"I am in desperate need of money."
"Don't we all," Rangel says sympathetically.

Only a few days had passed since Rodriguez and Rangel had first spoken on the phone, and Rodriguez was now calling back to take him up on his offer for fast cash. An employee of U.S. Security Insurance, Rodriguez had access to the type of information that is the lifeblood of Rangel's business. According to authorities, Rangel is a "runner" -- a private investigator, of sorts, who rounds up victims of automobile accidents and steers them to a select group of attorneys who then negotiate lucrative settlements with insurance companies.

But as Rangel repeatedly tells her, he is only interested in "victims" and only if there is adequate insurance coverage. He won't handle the case of a driver who was at fault in an accident; there is just no money in it. No problem, Rodriguez tells him. But she has her own priority. She asks him how long will it take to get paid after she turns over a good lead or induces a potential client to call him. "As soon as I find out that they have insurance, I put it in your hand," Rangel assures her. "If I get a client today, and today I find that he has insurance, today you have the money."

"And that's how much?" Rodriguez asks.
"Two hundred," Rangel says flatly.
Later she inquires, "Is this going to be cash?"

Throughout their conversation, Rodriguez is somewhat coy. She doesn't want to sound too eager. "I know I need the money...," Rodriguez repeats with a bit of hesitation in her voice.

"But listen to me," Rangel interrupts. "It's not against the law. But what you have to do is be very careful so nobody at your work finds out."

Rangel is wrong about the legality, but it hardly matters. Rodriguez seems hooked. She repeats the instructions she's been given. "Okay, I refer them to you and give them the phone number, right?" Rodriguez asks.

"Give them the telephone, and if you want, I will give you my cards," Rangel adds. Earlier, when Rodriguez called Rangel's office, she asked the receptionist for "attorney Luis Rangel." Rangel now takes a moment to correct her mistake. "By the way," he adds, "I'm not a defense attorney. I'm a legal assistant."

"Oh, you're a legal assistant."
"I'm a legal assistant," he repeats. "The attorney is Dennis Brod."
Rangel tells her he is an ex-police officer and that he has a master's degree in criminology and constitutional law. "I went to FIU," he says.

"I wish I was going to FIU," sighs Rodriguez.
"You could," Rangel interjects.
"I can't," laments Rodriguez. "I don't have money to go to FIU."

"Well, we're talking about money now," Rangel says smoothly. "We're talking money. This is serious business. There is a lot of money to be made in it. A lot of money."

During a pair of phone calls on this first day of their new partnership back in December 1990, Rangel further clarifies his relationship to attorney Dennis Brod. "It's my office also," he says. "We're partners in the office. I do all the investigative part, I do the negotiating part of the accident." (Brod describes Rangel as merely a "tenant" in the same building who happens to share the same office and phone lines. Rangel, he says, has done investigative work for him in the past, but he steadfastly asserts that Rangel has never referred or brought a case to his practice. "Never," the attorney declares.)

Rangel boasts during their talks that he has muchachitas -- young women just like Rodriguez -- who work at a number of different insurance companies in the area. They each earn up to $800 per week referring cases to him, he claims. "They're people who know my interest and they send people like crazy," Rangel boasts.

"So do you guys have a lot of claims in the office?" Rodriguez wonders.
"We have a lot of claims in the office," he says.
With Christmas approaching, Rodriguez explains, she can really use some extra money right away.

Rangel tells her not to worry: "With two or three little cases that you send me before the 24th or 25th, whatever, or before New Year's, with those little cases you would have $600."

"That's good," Rodriguez reasons.
"Of course!" Rangel exclaims. "And another thing, we're talking about regular cases. But let's say you send me a really big case. Not only do you get $200, but if it's a real big case, I'll take care of you again. If" -- he stresses -- "it's a real big case."

"You'll take care of what?"
"I'll take care of you again," he repeats. "I'll give you some more money."
"Oh," she says, brightening at the prospect. "More money."
"In a big case."
"Right, like a major injury."

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