Mothers Sentenced to Prison Terms for Using Their Children in Staged Accident Scheme

Miami, Florida - Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Michael B. Steinbach, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office; José A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CID); and Jeff Atwater, Florida Chief Financial Officer, announced that Ana Ovando, 42, of West Palm Beach, was sentenced Friday, January 11, 2013, to 78 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release for her role in a staged accident fraud scheme.

On October 25, 2012, a jury convicted Ovando of conspiring with others to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341 and 1349, as well as of 14 substantive counts of mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341. Ovando used her five children—aged between three and 17—during three staged accidents that occurred within 12 months.

On January 3, 2013, Janice Velez, 39, also of West Palm Beach, was sentenced to 24 months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, for her role in the same staged accident fraud scheme. Velez pled guilty on October 24, 2012, to conspiring with others to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1341 and 1349, as well as to 8 substantive counts of mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341. Velez used her two children during one staged accident.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, under Florida’s “No Fault” insurance law, insurers must provide Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage of $10,000 per person. Ovando and Velez and other co-conspirators unlawfully enriched themselves by submitting fraudulent PIP claims for chiropractic and massage therapy treatments for themselves and their children. Ovando and Velez made false claims that both themselves and their children received chiropractic and massage therapy services that they neither needed nor received over a several-month period. Ovando took her children to New York Medical and Rehab Center and Velez took her children to Karow Chiropractic Center, both located in West Palm Beach. There, massage therapists admitted that these patients signed blank treatment sheets that the massage therapists later completed and submitted to the insurance company for reimbursement.

Ovando and Velez are the latest federal defendants to be sentenced in the investigation known as Operation Sledgehammer. To date, a total of 26 defendants have been charged, resulting in 22 federal convictions. Four defendants are fugitives who have fled the United States.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI, IRS-CID, and the Florida Department of Insurance Fraud. Mr. Ferrer also thanked the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) for its assistance in this investigation, as well as the members of the Greater Palm Beach Health Care Fraud Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Marie Villafaña.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls.

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