Wednesday, November 7, 2001
Court of Appeal Reinstates Conspiracy Charges Against Ex-Lawyer Accused of Faking Accidents
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Charges that a former Van Nuys attorney conspired to defraud insurance companies by seeking payment for clients injured in staged accidents were reinstated yesterday by this district’s Court of Appeal.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis B. Rappe erred in dismissing those charges against Inna Gofman, who resigned from the State Bar after pleading guilty to similar federal charges, Justice J. Gary Hastings wrote for Div. Four.
The appellate panel did, however, uphold Rappe’s order dismissing three counts of insurance fraud and three counts of presenting a false and fraudulent insurance claim, charged against Gofman in the same indictment.
Rappe based his order on Penal Code Sec. 656, which bars prosecution when a defendant “has been acquitted or convicted” of a federal crime, or a crime against another state or a foreign jurisdiction, based upon the same “act or omission.” But Hastings said the statute didn’t bar the conspiracy charges in the state indictment because Gofman’s plea in the federal case didn’t cover those allegations.
The 1998 federal indictment charged Gofman and eight others with being part of an ongoing scheme to recruit owners of insured vehicles to participate in staged crashes, recruit other lawyers to represent them in presenting phony claims, and recruit chiropractors to provide false billings to attorneys and insurers for treatment.
The indictment identified six allegedly staged accidents in 1995 and 1996. Gofman eventually pled guilty to three counts of mail fraud, admitting that she used the U.S. Postal Service to obtain settlements in connection with three of the accidents. Conspiracy charges were dismissed as part of the plea bargain.
The 1999 indictment named 49 defendants and charged the faking of the same six accidents, plus two others. Gofman’s motion to dismiss the eight counts against her relating to the same accidents involved in the state plea was granted, but prosecutors exercised their right to appeal from partial dismissal of an indictment under Penal Code Sec. 1238.
Prosecutors argued that none of the charges against Gofman were subject to dismissal under Sec. 656.
Hastings, however, agreed only with respect to the conspiracy counts. Gofman’s plea in federal court only covered the substantive charges, the justice noted.
The appellate jurist agreed with the trial judge and the defense, however, that Gofman’s federal plea barred the state from trying her on substantive charges resulting from the same accidents.
That Gofman and each of her co-defendants “was charged with more than one substantive state offense does not alter the fact that each charge relates to the same ‘acts’—that Gofman…successfully made claim against three insurance carriers for three separate staged accidents,” the justice explained.
The basis for the federal charges of mail fraud in each count was presentation of the settlement check, the final act of the fraud or grand theft alleged in the federal indictment,” Hastings continued. “The fact that the mail was used to effectuate the fraud or grand theft is merely one additional act which formed the jurisdictional basis for the federal counts.”
The case is People v. Gofman, 01 S.O.S.5443.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company