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.

Insurance investigators had hoped to set up a face-to-face meeting between Rodriguez and Rangel, but when Rodriguez balked, the Rangel phase of the investigation drew to a close. Now it was time to go after the doctors.

Investigators say they were disappointed when Rangel referred the case from attorney Dennis Brod's office to that of Delgado. Just a few months earlier Brod's name had surfaced in another solicitation probe, this one involving a man who had been involved in one of the largest prosecutions of insurance fraud ever attempted in South Florida.

In 1977 Jeremiah Huff, along with nine co-defendants, including two doctors and one-time powerhouse attorney Anthony Capodilupo, were indicted by a federal grand jury on 188 counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy. According to the indictment, Huff and others would listen to police radio scanners and rush to the scenes of automobile accidents, find the victims, "and encourage them to sign up for Capodilupo to represent them by telling them that they could make some money and that insurance would pay all the bills."

Eventually the prosecutors' case unraveled. By the time Capodilupo's attorneys were done, all 188 counts had been dismissed against both Capodilupo and Huff. But authorities came back at Capodilupo and later convicted him on two counts of mail fraud and conspiracy. In 1986 he was suspended from the practice of law. He is currently an antique dealer in North Miami.

In 1990, more than a dozen years after Jeremiah Huff's original arrest for ambulance-chasing, he once again found himself in trouble with the law. But this time there were no big-name co-defendants and high-priced defense attorneys. He was all alone.

When an automobile accident does not result in physical injury to those involved, a police department may not send a sworn officer to the scene. Instead they often dispatch a public service aide (PSA) to fill out the necessary reports. During the spring and summer of 1990, PSA Veronica Pryor regularly was being sent by Metro-Dade Police to accidents in the predominantly black portion of Dade northwest of the Miami city limits. On at least a dozen occasions that season, she says she saw the same man arrive at the scene of accidents she was investigating. The man would pull aside the victims, talk to them for a few minutes, and then leave. She later checked the license plate number on the man's van and saw the car was registered to Jeremiah Huff. Pryor would also later identify Huff from a photo lineup as the man she repeatedly saw at accident scenes.

On June 14, 1990, Pryor was working an accident when she spotted Huff approaching one of the drivers, a doctor named Laurinus Pierre. Huff spoke to Pierre for a few minutes and left. Pryor then approached Pierre to inquire about Huff. According to investigative reports filed in the case, Huff told Pierre that as a result of the accident he would probably need a lawyer. Huff allegedly handed Pierre a business card for attorney Dennis Brod and claimed that Brod could get him at least $25,000 for the accident. Huff then added that Brod would be expecting to receive a phone call from Pierre as soon as possible.

Pryor reported the incident to her superiors, who in turn passed along the information to state insurance fraud investigators John Askins and Susan Alberti. After several months of interviewing everyone involved, the fraud investigators arrested Huff on November 28, 1990, and charged him with insurance fraud. Investigators had hoped his arrest might lead to information about other potential cases. Askins, in a note to Alberti, instructed her to call the State Attorney's Office and ask prosecutors to "play hardball" with Huff in an effort to enlist him as an informant.

But with a low-level, white-collar felony such as insurance fraud involving only solicitation, the game of hardball, which can be time-consuming, isn't a realistic option for an overburdened State Attorney's Office. And although solicitation carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5000 fine, Huff was instead diverted to "pretrial intervention," a form of probation. If he wasn't rearrested in the near future, the charges against him ultimately would be dismissed. Which is exactly what happened.

Reviewing the final report about the case, Gabriel Mazzeo, a district supervisor with the Florida Department of Insurance, wrote to John Askins: "Very good report. Too bad we can't get Brod."

Dennis Brod is flabbergasted at the idea that anyone would be out to get him. "I have a perfect record with the Florida Bar," Brod correctly states. "I am guilty of nothing. I am guilty of no improper conduct. I'm clean as a whistle." Indignant that his name would even be mentioned in an article about illegal solicitation and insurance fraud, the attorney accused New Times of engaging in the "rankest form of speculation" in dredging up these cases.

Addressing his relationship with Jeremiah Huff, Brod denies he has ever received a case from him. He explains that he once represented Huff in some real estate matters and that he has represented members of Huff's family, but that was many years ago. Brod says he has no idea how Huff may have acquired his business card, or why Huff would drive to an accident scene and hand that card to one of the victims. "Jeremiah Huff was acting on his own," Brod asserts. "I was not implicated in that in any way."

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