Money makes the world go round: A blog about the business and culture of all things entertaining in the world of theater, television, film, music, art, gadgets, gizmos and other life necessities (and probably other things, knowing myself)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The New Breed of Business Personnel

Disclosure: I wrote this to explain the versatility of the new business personnel. The story is true. The court case is a real one. The defendants were sentenced in May 2011. The true name of Mr. Smith has been changed.

In a Manhattan criminal courtroom, John Smith’s name was heard but he was nowhere to be seen. The case was an insurance fraud scandal involving two wholesale jewelers from the Diamond District accused of staging a real-life version of the movie  “Snatch” – a fake $7 million fraud heist to collect insurance reimbursement.

When the insurance company – Lloyds of London – began to suspect their clients were not being entirely truthful, they brought in Mr. Smith, a well-known general adjuster of McLarens Young International.

“The real mantra of insurance is to put things back to where they were five seconds before it happened,” Mr. Smith explained in a nearly empty diner in White Plains, N.Y. a month after the two “Snatch” jewelers were convicted of insurance fraud, attempted grand larceny and falsifying business records.

“I take the claim cradle to the grave.”

Putting together pieces to a puzzle is not unfamiliar territory for Mr. Smith, a former New York City detective who now works ferreting out scam artists making false claims against insurance companies to collect millions of dollars in payoffs.

When a package from Tel Aviv arrives in New York sans it’s content of a three-carat diamond, it is Mr. Smith's responsibility to determine what happened during the trip across the Atlantic.

And when a jeweler in Boynton Beach, FL decided he no longer loved his wife and wanted to be with his lover instead, Mr. Smith revealed the man’s desperate attempts to collect a hefty amount in fraudulent claims.

And when a 7.5-carat diamond, with an estimated wholesale value of $750,000, fell out of a broker’s pocket in the crowded Diamond District exchange, Lloyds of London immediately assigned Mr. Smith to the case.

“I went to every single video camera, even ones they didn’t know they had,” Mr. Smith said.

After some street investigation, he recovered the missing diamond and the man who pretended to tie his shoes in order to confiscate it.

“Like [the “Snatch” jewelers], most of these guys are flat broke,” Mr. Smith explained. “Did these people think they’d get as much attention as they did?”

“Probably not.”

His professional title hasn’t been “detective” for more than twenty years, yet he still looks the part – white hair, thick mustache, inquiring green eyes and a big gold, NYPD band on his left ring finger, as if he were married to the job.

He drinks his coffee black.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Smith joined the police department at the age of 18 and just three years later, he caught a glimpse of a dangerous world that would eventually follow him throughout his professional life when members of the Black Liberation Army assassinated his partner and friend, Gregory Foster.

Throughout his law enforcement career, Mr. Smith was credited with solving more than 25 homicides and responsible for at least 1000 arrests. He was also chosen to protect Indira Gandhi, Hafer Assad and Teddy Kollek. But, after 19 years of numerous battle wounds and getting passed over on a number of promotions, he reconsidered his career and eventually chose a path less taken by decorative officers: investigating insurance claims with an eye on catching those who might commit fraud.

His unexpected switch to a career in business began two years before his retirement from the force. On the way to work as an officer, Mr. Smith would drive by assigned homes to verify their descriptions with insurance companies. His part-time gig earned him $25 an hour and, eventually, a long-term career.

Upon retiring from the NYPD, Mr. Smith worked for Adjustco, a third party administrator, while obtaining the necessary qualifications to officially make the switch from detective to general adjuster.

Now, instead of investigating homicides and narcotic cases, Mr. Smith examines claims of insurance, liability, fidelity and rape.

In one of the rape claims he investigated, a robber slipped pass a doorman and took an elevator to the top of the building before breaking into a woman’s apartment on 44th St. The perpetrator robbed and raped the victim and she later sued apartment management. Mr. Smith found the victim’s claim rightfully filed.

“I don’t just look at one thing,” he said. “I look at everything.”

He described the case on 44th St. as “painful” since the woman was attacked in her home “minding her own business.”

“In the ‘70's Connie Francis was attacked while in a hotel and that was a turning point in culpability,” Mr. Smith said.

His background in law enforcement has created a lack of trust amongst some defense lawyers who believe the retired detective has a bias in favor of the state and accuses him of colluding with prosecutors to “go after” their clients. 

“My counterparts…they’ve watched too much CSI,” Mr. Smith said.

“And the brokers…they get good PR if their claims are paid quickly so they’re going to blame the adjustors if [the investigation] is slow. They don’t want the adjustors coming in there…they think ‘Is he going to notify the IRS?’ The answer is, ‘No’… actually it depends.”

He does admit to speaking to cops and using past connections during his law enforcement days to get to the truth in fraudulent insurance claims.

“Sometimes you have to use the bad guys to get to the bad guys,” Mr. Smith explained. “You have to be nice to people even when they’re doing something wrong…I never know if I’ll need that guy again to help me out.”