An insurance company has filed theft charges in Ohio against two men who allegedly carried out a bizarre insurance fraud scheme that culminated when a Glendale physician misidentified a corpse as one of the two men, enabling the other to collect $1 million.
The filing of charges by Farmer’s New World Life Insurance Co. of Mercer Island, Wash., last Friday cleared the way for the FBI in Columbus to issue arrest warrants for the men, Melvin E. Hanson, 46, and his business partner, John B. Hawkins, 25, both of Columbus.
Investigators say they have been unable to find either man since the fraud was discovered in July. The Glendale physician, Dr. Richard P. Boggs, has not been charged but is still under investigation by the California Department of Insurance, according to Ron Warthen, chief investigator for the department’s fraud bureau.
The case is also under investigation by a Franklin County, Ohio, grand jury and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, spokesmen said.
The insurance claim was filed after Boggs, an internist and neurologist, last April identified a man who reportedly dropped dead in his office as Hanson. Boggs told authorities that the man he knew as Hanson had been his patient for six years, even after moving from California, continuing to see him as a patient when he made business trips here.
The dead man had in his wallet two credit cards and a photocopy of a birth certificate, all in Hanson’s name.
Hawkins, the sole beneficiary of Hanson’s life insurance policy, also identified the corpse as Hanson and immediately ordered it cremated, Warthen said. Hawkins was also a patient of Boggs, he said.
$1 Million Paid
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office attributed the death to an inflammation of the heart. And the insurance company said it subsequently paid $1 million to Hawkins, who was co-founder with Hanson of Just Sweats Inc., a foundering chain of athletic wear stores in Ohio and Kentucky.
But the case took a turn when a conversation with an insurance company employee following up the claim piqued the interest of a Glendale police investigator, department spokesman Sgt. Dean Durand said. In July, the investigator checked fingerprints taken from the corpse and found that they were not Hanson’s.
The coroner’s office immediately ordered the case reopened and is now running tests on preserved tissue and blood samples, coroner’s spokesman Bob Danbacher said.
The California Department of Insurance and the coroner’s office on Sept. 29 identified the dead man as North Hollywood resident Ellis Henry Greene, 32.
Authorities still do not know how Greene, a bookkeeper for a San Fernando Valley accountant, got to Boggs’ office, Warthen said. He was seen leaving a North Hollywood bar about 10 p.m. on April 15, nine hours before he reportedly died at the medical office, the investigator said.
State insurance investigators searched Boggs’ home and office a day after the corpse’s identity was discovered, Warthen said. He would not disclose what evidence was uncovered.
In an interview in September, Boggs denied any wrongdoing and said he was duped into believing that the dead man was Hanson.
Police in Ohio are also investigating Hanson and Hawkins for allegedly embezzling $1.8 million dollars from their ailing business. They owned the chain of stores with a third partner who does not appear to be involved in the scam, said Detective James Lanfear of the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department Organized Crime Bureau.