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By Barry Zalma
Louise Rosenberg lived very well, and alone, in beautiful Marin County, California. She had earned an exceptional living as a “Sporting Event Consultant,” advising people on how to successfully bet on sporting events. She also gave odds and took bets. In a different neighborhood at a different time people would call her a “bookie.” .
Louise lived high. Louise traveled extensively. Wherever she traveled, she bought things. Her house was full. Sculptures sat on every flat surface, paintings on every wall, and silver and crystal in every nook and cabinet in her house.
As a successful gambler, Louise enjoyed a great deal of tax-free cash. She spent what she earned. She saved nothing. She invested in nothing other than a bet on the next sporting event.
The Sheriff’s office was making it difficult for Louise. Her earnings were dropping. She wanted to set up an illegal betting shop behind a barber shop in Novato, but she needed capital for the telephone lines and satellite televisions to make the shop work. Louise had no ready cash. She did, however, have a great deal of silver, art work, and other valuable personal property in her house. And she had a homeowners policy.
The need for capital drove Louise to insurance fraud. Because she was an intelligent woman, Louise thoroughly prepared for her crime. She made an inventory of her household goods and set values on each.item at twice the price she paid. She threw away all purchase invoices. Louise took out-of-focus photographs of the interior of the house and the apparently valuable property. She took some sculptures and silver to her sister’s house so that vacant spaces appeared in the house. Then Louise called the police.
“What happened, Ms. Rosenberg?” asked the first arriving Marin County Deputy.
“I was in my yard, gardening. I noticed some nice looking young men park their Ford Grand Marquis in front of Novato Police Chief Tones’ house, door to mine. I just thought they were some of his detectives coming to speak to him. I ignored them. “Ten minutes after I saw the young men park I went into my house to get an iced tea. The doorbell rang. I looked through the peep hole and saw the two nicely dressed men at my door. I opened it and they pointed a gun at me and pushed me into my house.” Louise recited the entire story in an emotionless monotone.
“What did the gun look like?”
“It was big and black. I don’t know anything about guns. I was scared.”
“What happened next?”
“Then said: ‘We know you have valuable things. Be good and you won’t be hurt.’ Then they had me show them where I kept my silver and my money.”
“How did they get the stuff from your house?”
“One of the men had me go to my attached garage and push the button that opens the garage door. The other one drove the Grand Marquis into the garage and then they closed the door. I was told to stay on my living room sofa as they took my things and loaded them in my car.”
“What did they take, Ms. Rosenberg?”
“All my Georgian and Victorian sterling silver flatware (30 full place settings). They took my Victorian Epergne, my Georgian sterling platters, four sterling silver candelabras, and five sterling silver boxes. Those evil men took all 25 of my Erte sculptures, some cash and some small artworks. My best guess is that the items were worth $500,000.”
“Did you have insurance on them?”
“I don’t know. I know I have a homeowners policy”
“Do you have an inventory of the things that they took? Do you have an appraisal?”
“I do have an inventory I made a few months ago of all my things.
I will go over the inventory and pick out the things that they stole. They were out of my sight for some time and may have taken things I did not see them take.”
“Please provide that list to us when possible.”
“Of course, thank you officers.”
The two officers left her home shaking their heads. The more experienced said to his junior: “That woman has nerve. She is the calmest victim of an armed robbery I have ever met.” “Yeah,” the younger officer replied, “she explained the events to us like she was explaining a decision to wear a red rather than a black dress. Do you think there was a real robbery?”
“I don’t know, but I bet the forensic guys find no prints.”
“They’ll find prints, but only hers. I wish my wife could be as strong as that woman.”
Immediately after the officers left, Louise picked up the telephone and called her insurance agent. The agent immediately reported the robbery to Louise’s insurer, the Perfidious Mutual Insurance Company. Perfidious immediately assigned an adjuster, Wilhelmina Penny. Ms. Penny, a graduate in the Humanities from California State University, Sonoma, had worked for Perfidious for six months. Her training in insurance claims consisted of reading Paul Thomas’ book on claims handling and riding with an experienced adjuster for two weeks to watch how the company was handling claims.
After making an appointment, Wilhelmina Penny met Louise Rosenberg at her Marin County residence two days after the reported robbery. A courteous woman Louise gave Ms. Penney a complete tour of her house, pointing out the art work, sculptures, fine furniture and silverware the robbers did not take. The opulence of the house impressed Wilhelmina. She had not seen a home like this before. She lived in a studio apartment that cost half her $1800 a month take-home pay.
Louise was sweet. She gave Wilhelmina iced tea and answered all the questions Wilhelmina’s supervisor said must be asked on every burglary ur robbery claim. She took the inventory Louise gave her, noted which items were missing and which items she could “see were still in the House. She gratefully accepted the photographs Louise gave her and took a few pictures of the interior of the house. Ms. Penny, after spending thirty minutes with Louise, thanked her for her lime, asked her to search the house for any receipts and took leave.
Louise, as she showed Ms. Penny to the door, said, “I’ll look for the receipts, dear, but I doubt I will find any. As I told you, I was involved with very powerful boyfriends and almost all of the things were gifts. The rest I bought using cash given to me by my. friends.”
“That’s okay, Ms. Rosenberg.” Wilhelmina replied. “The pictures and the inventory should be enough. If we need something further, I’ll call.”
After the meeting, Louise went to her den, poured three fingers of Russian vodka into a glass, squeezed a few drops of orange juice in it and toasted the success at her first attempt at insurance fraud. As she sipped her stiff screwdriver, Louise said aloud: “You are one lucky woman, Louise. That poor girl was so stupid and so impressed with the house, she’ll try to pay you more than you asked the insurance company to pay.” That said and the vodka consumed, Louise took a nap.
Wilhelmina returned to her office and wrote a complete report about
her “investigation.” She recommended, after adding up all the items on the inventory list, that Perfidious issue a check and proof of loss for the, policy limits, $400,000, because the loss was $600,000. She described the house, with the goods remaining, as a “mansion equipped like a museum” with quality art work and expensive furnishings
Ms. Penny’s report was read, since it sought the payment of policy limits, by Home Office Claims Supervisor Wile E. Coyote, a claims person with more than thirty years claims handling experience. Mr. Coyote was concerned that Ms. Rosenberg had no invoices to support her claim of ownership of the stolen items. Some facts of the robbery Ms. Penny related to him did not ring true. Ms. Rosenberg admitted to no visible means of support.
Coyote felt there were too many red flags of insurance fraud to allow for instantaneous payment of such a large claim. He instructed Ms.
Penny to retain one of the Pernicious Mutual’s panel counsel to require Louise to submit to an examination under oath. Counsel would explain that the examination under oath was to allow her sworn testimony to replace the missing invoices.
The lawyer scheduled the examination under oath to take place at the Rosenberg home. The lawyer, Sidney V. I. Cious, brought with him a fine arts appraiser to help him understand the things claimed stolen and to evaluate the museum quality goods remaining in the house. The appraiser, Dianna Rigged, had worked with the lawyer in the past and had helped avoid claims for the theft of forged artworks.
They sat together in Louise’s living root’ with a court reporter and spoke for four hours. The lawyer surprised Louise because it took so long. Regardless, she answered all questions posed to her.. She knew she was a creative woman and Mr. Cious had no idea or means of proving that there had not been a robbery.
“Louise,” the lawyer inquired, “You tell me you don’t have a job. Your tax returns show $13.00 in gross income last year. How can you afford to live in this fine Marin County home, with all these expensive and antique items, with no income?”
“Sidney, you are a suspicious devil.”
“Just curious. My client needs to know how you live on no income.”
“My last boyfriend, with whom I lived for seven years, and who bought this house for me, was a union collection agent in New Jersey. He made very good money because much of what he did was illegal. A year and eight months ago he was found under the Boardwalk in Atlantic City with
six bullet holes in his head. Since then, every month by UPS, I receive a plain brown paper wrapped package from his “family” with $10,000 to $20,000 in cash. That’s what I use to keep up my life style.”
“Is there a return address on the package?”
“Of course not.”
“Who with your boyfriend’s “family” sends the package to your„
“I don’t know.”
“What was his name?”
“Was Max the person who gave you the silver?”
“Did you buy any of the things You report were stolen?”
“Some, when I went on trips.”
“How did you pay for them?”
“With cash Max gave me.”
The description of how she lived went on for twenty minutes of detailed exposition. Max Ciccilone was a gambler who had placed bets with her. He died in Atlantic City about 18 months before because he failed to pay one of his bookmakers. Louise, who had also been stiffed by Max, knew that if the insurer checked they would find the manner of his death and that he was involved in criminal activity. She had never met Ciccilone. He was dead and could not call her a liar.
“Let’s talk about the things taken, Louise – describe for me the Erte sculptures?”
“They were a complete set of all of the muses, 25each. They stook approximately 48 inches high and were cast bronze. “Would you like to see what they looked like?”
“Here’s a book of Erte’s sculptures, I had this set and you can have the color pictures from the book if you want to help you get them back from the robbers.”
“Thank you, Louise. I will take the pictures. How were they taken?”
“They were all on display in the living room and my Master Bedroom. I saw the bigger of the two robbers put them in a large cardboard box — you know, like the ones you use to store things under a bed — and carry them out to his car parked in my garage.”
“Where did you get them from?”
“I don’t know. Dear Max would bring them to me after one of his trips. Each time he would come to the Bay, he would stop by my house and give me another Erte. He was so sweet.”
“They were all gifts, then?”
“Yes, from poor Max.”
“You claim they stole some sterling silver boxes, but not all of the boxes you owned, is that right?” “Yes.”
“Do you have any of the boxes similar to the ones stolen that I can look at?”
“Of course. Here’s one.” Louise said, handing lawyer Cious a small silver box.
Sidney handed the box to Ms. Rigged who turned it over (l i ld pointed to a mark on the bottom of the box.
“Ms. Rosenberg,” he asked while handing the box back to Louise, “what do the letters “EPS” stamped on the back of the box mean?”
“I have no idea. I bought this sterling silver box in Australia in a small shop in Sydney and it may have been the initials of the shop.”
Dianna Rigged leaned over and whispered in the lawyer’s ear: “EPS’ means electro-plated-silver.”
“Is this silver box the same kind of sterling silver that they stole from you?” “Yes, exactly.”
“Do you know what sterling silver is?”
“Of course, it’s pure silver.”
“Can you show me any mark on this box that says it is sterling.”
“I don’t see it, but the man who sold it to me said it was sterling and I paid a lot of money for it.”
By the end of the day lawyer Cious and appraiser Rigged were convinced that Louise, sweet and cooperative as she was, was a fraud. Her story, detailed and convoluted as it appeared, was totally incredible. To be safe, however, Sidney called a friend who was connected to the Mafia and asked if there was any way Louise might receive cash from the “family” after the death of her boyfriend. The connected gentleman said, “If she was his wife, possibly But the Jewish girlfriend of a Sicilian mobster? Never.”
With the information from his informant, with the electro-plated silver box being claimed as sterling and with the impossibility of placing 25 bronze sculptures, weighing between 25 and 50 pounds each, into a cardboard box and carrying it away, attorney Cious felt confident that he could prove, beyond a preponderance of the evidence, that Louise Rosenberg had attempted to defraud Perfidious Mutual Insurance Company.
The claim was denied, Rosenberg sued, and the case went to trial. Her case was destroyed in the mind of the jury when she, as plaintiff, refused to answer questions concerning her earnings and tax returns on the ground that her answers might incriminate her. The jury found that Louise had lied under oath when she presented her claim and had attempted fraud.
Louise got nothing. The insurer spent more than $200,000 on lawyers and experts to defend the suit. No criminal prosecution was attempted. Louise is back working her Sports Book and living well on tax free income. The owners of the insurance company, those people who are insured and do not present false claims, lost. Justice was not done.
Barry Zalma of the Culver City law firm of Barry Zalma-, Inc., is also the president of ClainiSchool, Inc. and the publisher of You Will Tell The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothing But The Truth. He can be reached at (310) 390-4455.
© 2000 John Cooke Fraud Report