Worker’s compensation fraud plot busted, authorities say
A Kissimmee man was arrested in Palm Beach County after deputies say he ripped off an insurance company of more than $1 million in an elaborate case of worker’s compensation fraud.
Arturo Santos Zuniga, who also went by the name David Hernandez, was busted as part of an investigation led by the Broward Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department, according to his arrest report.
The 40-year-old man is an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, according to the report. He is accused of being involved in a ploy in which laborers are paid in cash to avoid paying worker’s compensation insurance premiums.
Investigators say it worked like this: Zuniga paid a North Lauderdale man to create and insure a fake or “shell” company, Behar Services Incorporated, that “rented” out insurance certificates — required by the state for construction workers — to uninsured subcontractors.
The subcontractors were then hired for construction jobs across South Florida. When the jobs were finished, payments to the uninsured subcontractors were made through checks to the fake company, which were then cashed at check cashing stores.
Zuniga charged a 5 percent fee on all “business to business” checks made payable to Behar Services Incorporated, according to the arrest report.
Behar Services Incorporated got its insurance policy through Frank Winston Crum Insurance Company, saying it had 10 employees doing carpentry and office work, and an annual payroll of $210,000. The policy was for July 2014 to 2015 with an annual premium of about $26,500.
But the insurance company began auditing the policy and Behar Services Incorporated would not cooperate, according to the arrest report.
Authorities reviewed confidential law enforcement financial reports and discovered that in just the months from July to October, more than $7.3 million had been cashed out at check cashing stores to Behar Services Incorporated and/or the North Lauderdale man who started the company.
It’s not clear if the North Lauderdale man who incorporated the shell company faces charges.
A representative with Frank Winston Crum Insurance Company told investigators that the policy for a $7.3 million payroll would have cost more than $1 million above the policy for a $210,000 payroll.
Friday, Zuniga was confronted by law enforcement officers outside a cash checking store he frequented and taken into custody on charges of worker’s compensation fraud and scheme to defraud more than $50,000.
He spent about 12 hours at the Palm Beach County Jail before being released early Saturday on $30,000 bail, records show.
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