- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

A District man yesterday pleaded guilty in federal court to having a role in a massive, multiyear insurance scheme involving more than 100 staged truck-car accidents that resulted in more than $1 million in fraudulent claims.
Clifton A. King, who entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, is the eighth person named by federal prosecutors this year in the scheme and the 15th person overall to be charged and convicted in the case. Seven others convicted this year received sentences ranging from 51 months to 97 months.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Wiechering, who prosecuted the case, described King as a "small fish" in the conspiracy, noting that the plan had been conceived and directed by Blake Keller and Michael Weaver, both of the District, who were each responsible for recruiting and directing the 13 other participants.
Keller was sentenced in September 2001 to 97 months in prison for his role. Weaver, who also pleaded guilty, is awaiting sentencing, scheduled for Jan. 31.
Mr. Wiechering said the conspirators took part in 110 staged truck-car accidents that resulted in the filing of 126 insurance claims. He said the insurance companies paid out more than $1 million to settle bodily injury and property damage claims filed by the group.
More than $600,000 of the illicit proceeds were laundered through bank accounts opened under stolen identities, he said.
Mr. Wiechering said Keller owned and operated the now-defunct Crestwood Auto Sales in the District and was responsible for procuring false identities for the staged-accident participants. He said Keller stole several identities from customers who purchased automobiles from his lot, including a Navy commander and an employee of American University.
Other identities were purchased on the street for cash, he said, which were then used to obtain false Virginia driver's licenses and to register and insure vehicles intended to be used in the scheme. The group used at least 36 identities, including its own, Mr. Wiechering said.
Most of the fraudulent claims were the result of "carefully choreographed accidents" in which one conspirator would rent a truck under a false name, then ram a parked vehicle registered and insured under a separate identity, he said. Separate claims were then filed: one to a private insurance company for damage caused by a hit-and-run driver, and a second to the truck-rental agency for damage caused by its insured driver.
Some previously totaled vehicles were used to submit up to six property damage claims, Mr. Wiechering said, adding that after federal investigators tipped insurance company representatives to the scheme, insurers were able to identify and deny more than $400,000 in false claims submitted by the group.

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