Lawyers, Chiropractors Involved in Major Auto Insurance Fraud Ring


More than two dozen men and women, including some lawyers and chiropractors, were arrested Tuesday in Los Angeles on charges of running a large scale auto insurance fraud ring that netted more than $450,000.

The Automobile Insurance Fraud Division of the District Attorney’s Office reports that four lawyers and four chiropractors were among those arrested.

The attorneys and physical therapists are accused of defrauding 15 California auto insurance providers by allegedly filing false claims for staged accidents. A case was filed against 28 defendants on Oct. 22. According to prosecutors, the defendants are part of a larger fraud ring which involves more than 300 other individuals.

The arrested chiropractors were Dmitriy Sklyut, 33, Mark A. Stolyar, 35, Babak Naghi, 40, and Christopher Manuel Cleveland, 54. The defendants were collectively charged with 60 counts of grand theft of personal property and insurance fraud. They are scheduled for arraignment in Department 30 of the Foltz Criminal Justice Center this Wednesday.

The lawyers who were included on Tuesday’s arrest also face the same charges. Glendale Attorney John Akopian, 37, is charged with 38 counts; Beverly Hills lawyer Leon Rubin Laufer, 57, with 50 counts; Corona Attorney Edward Leonid Katsnelson, 50, and Los Angeles Attorney Stephen Marshall Weiss, 62, face 32 counts apiece. Akopian faces additional charges of money laundering, receiving stolen property and for possessing an assault weapon.

Akopian was arrested last Sunday and pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Tuesday morning. Weiss, who was arrested Friday last week, also pleaded not guilty Monday in his arraignment. Both men are set to appear in court Jan. 6 for their second hearing. Laufer and Katsnelson are still awaiting trial, authorities said.

Authorities believe that the defendants worked with Alexander Igor Gutman, 48, of Sherman Oaks, and Laszlo Aldar Bango, 37, of Van Nuys.  Bango was indicted last year for conspiring with hundreds of other suspects in an auto insurance fraud ring. Investigators believe that Gutman has netted millions of dollars by staging some 2,600 accidents in order to cash in on coverage money. Both men pleaded guilty on Feb. 26, 2007.

Gutman admitted being guilty of 15 counts of car insurance fraud while Bango admitted to four counts of the same felony. Gutman and Bango are due to be sentenced at a future date.

California Department of Insurance reported a rise in auto insurance scams last year with 25 percent increase in vehicle arson in comparison to its number of cases in 2007. The district attorney for Los Angeles County commented that such crimes undermine the foundation of the insurance system, particularly when arranged by lawyers and medical practitioners.