Stotfold mastermind in crash for cash scam

Court
Court

The Stotfold mastermind behind a ‘crash for cash’ scheme has pleaded guilty to conning insurance companies out of more than £120,000.

The admission, by Mario Panico, aged 57, of Stotfold, can now be made public after the conclusion of a court case where one of his fellow conspiritors was found guilty.

Panico was the organiser of the overall scheme and pleased guilty to six counts of conspiracy to defraud.

He and a woman and five other men had already pleaded guilty to numerous offences. But Rajesh Kurmi, 43, of Letchworth Garden City, had pleaded not guilty.

He was convicted on Wednesday of making a false insurance claim – one of numerous claims made by the gang between July 2012 and March 2014, which related to road traffic collisions that either had not taken place at all, or were deliberately caused.

The court heard how the group gave different accounts for the alleged accidents and how a garage used to carry out the repairs on the vehicles was owned by one of the people making the claim.

Kurmi, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud relating to a false damage and personal injury claim for a collision reported to have occurred in June 2013 between an Audi TT and an Aston Martin. He had previously pleaded guilty to a further count of conspiracy to defraud.

Detective Constable Ian Russell, from the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit, said: “This was a highly-organised, calculated and extensive conspiracy to defraud, and we are pleased the final part of this group has been found guilty. Fraud is not a victimless crime.

“We will continue to persistently pursue those we suspect of being involved in organised crime and continue to put them before the courts.”

Ben Fletcher, Director of the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB), said: “Staged and contrived accidents form part of the ‘crash for cash’ insurance fraud phenomenon which we estimate costs the honest policyholder almost £350 million each year.

“Today’s convictions demonstrate how the IFB, insurers and the police work closely together to identify suspected fraud by linking a series of
apparently unconnected claims to one individual or gang.

“The investigation between ERSOU and the IFB highlights to would-be fraudsters that the risks of being caught and prosecuted is very real and that they face the prospect of heavy fines, a criminal record and imprisonment, with potentially restricted access to financial services for the rest of their lives.”

The group of eight will be sentenced on March 11.

The defendants:

Mario Panico, 57, of Stotfold, was the organiser of the overall criminal scheme and pleaded guilty to six counts of conspiracy to defraud.

Rajesh Kurmi, 43, of Letchworth Garden City, was found guilty of one count and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud.

Kieran Cross, 27, of Baldock, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud.

Melissa Brown, 40, of Letchworth Garden City, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud.

Paul Wright, 35, of Stevenage, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud.

Lee Chapman, 26, of Hitchin, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud.

Craig Walsh, 28, of Baldock, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to defraud.

Generoso Follano, 43, of Baldock, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud.