By Michael E. Miller
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Richard Tharp, currently in state prison for insurance-fraud violations, is an old-time Miami runner who says that as long as there are attorneys, there will always be runners hustling up cases for those who are too lazy or too greedy to make an honest stab at practicing law. "It's far more lucrative than advertising," Tharp contends. "Dollar-wise, they get back far more of a return soliciting than they do from advertising. I've worked for people who have become circuit court judges and city commissioners. I've worked for a lot of different people who all became very successful and wealthy. Why would anyone think it was ever going to stop?"
Another veteran Miami runner, who agreed to talk about his experiences if his last name wasn't used, says all types of people get in on the game. "You have cops who will refer clients to attorneys for a fee," explains Raymond. "And who better than a cop? When he approaches a driver after an accident and the driver is disoriented, sometimes the driver will ask, 'What do you suggest I do?' And if the conditions are right, and he can handle it subtly, the cop will say, 'Hey, my brother-in-law is an attorney and if you want to call him, here's his card.' Of course the attorney isn't his brother-in-law; the cop is just working for him. So it can start right there on the scene. Then you have the ambulance drivers. And it can occur right in the emergency room as well. You're sitting there waiting to be treated for maybe a half-hour, an hour, or more because you aren't seriously hurt, and an orderly or an intern comes over and talks to you and gains your confidence."
Usually it doesn't take much persuasion -- even when it might entail lying to the insurance company. "People were usually receptive to it," says convicted runner Richard Tharp. "Most people I guess are kind of greedy and they don't feel it is something so terrible. I've gotten whole busloads of people. I had an [insurance] adjuster that would call me the minute he found out that a Metro bus had an accident. And he would give me the names of the people, and I would then take them to different attorneys. Two or three here. One there. Two there. And collect a finder's fee for each case."
Interview a reformed runner for any length of time and invariably he will have a bus story. "I remember in the old days, when a Metro bus got into an accident. The first thing the bus driver was instructed to do was to lock the doors," Raymond laughs, "because there would be ten passengers onboard at the time of the accident, but by the time the cops arrived there would be 30 onboard, all claiming injuries."
The practice of voluntarily becoming a victim rose to absurd heights during Raymond's prime in the mid- to late Eighties. Because folks couldn't be relied on to get into enough accidents by themselves, the obvious solution was to stage a few wrecks. This was Raymond's specialty, and he never had a problem recruiting people willing to participate. In fact, as word quietly spread, he developed a long list of volunteers. "I'd have people calling me telling me they had a friend who needed money and wanted to do this," Raymond recalls. "And it's easy. Basically you find an isolated area late at night, have the people who needed the money stop in their car at a particular stop sign, and then we'd have a guy come along in a U-Haul and whack them pretty good from behind. U-Haul trucks are perfect for this because they have those big, high bumpers. You wouldn't even put a scratch on those trucks."
Sometimes people inside the car were so nervous they'd wear motorcycle helmets as they waited for the truck to ram them. After the "accident," the U-Haul would take off, and the "victims" would ditch their helmets. "You'd wait a couple of minutes for the U-Haul to leave the scene and then you call the police," Raymond says, adding that in the more than 30 accidents he staged no one was ever seriously hurt. "When we'd rent the truck, we usually did two of these a night. One in one part of town and another across town. Then in the morning we'd return the truck."
Achieving success with such accidents was assured, notes Raymond, when the "victims" were properly insured with United States Fidelity and Guarantee Insurance. Why USF&G? Because Raymond claims he had on his payroll a claims adjuster who would investigate the accident and then authorize payment. Most claims were settled for about $10,000, the maximum the adjuster could approve without involving his supervisors. The money would be divided up this way: The U-Haul driver received $500, the claims adjuster took $3300, Raymond's cut was anywhere from $600 to $1000 for orchestrating things, and the "victims" inside the car would split the rest. (Raymond's staged wrecks bypassed attorneys entirely.) Raymond has no doubt such operations are thriving today. "For every one you put away," he says, "two more get the idea."