a story in the New York Daily News, among other news outlets, indicates.
In the latest iteration of this age-old practice, a team of attorneys and doctors allegedly recruited more than 400 New York City inhabitants, many of whom were homeless or addicted to drugs, over the course of 5 years to participate in their scam.
These people, who were often desperate for money, were coached to claim they’d tripped and fallen over one of the many obstacles pedestrians encounter in the city — sidewalk cracks, potholes, open or protruding cellar doors, and the like. The participant would be cajoled into signing his or her name to a fraudulent suit. Over the years, the scam netted the bosses more than $31 million from city businesses and their insurance companies.
In some cases, to add authenticity to the swindle, the scammers convinced the so-called victims to undergo an operation, promising them up to $1,500 to go under the knife.
Accused by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of masterminding the slip-and-fall operation were two attorneys, George Constantine and Marc Elefant, and a pair of doctors, Andrew Dowd, MD, an orthopedic surgeon, and Sady Ribeiro, MD, a pain management specialist and surgeon.
According to the charges, Mr. Constantine and Mr. Elefant filed lawsuits — either together or separately, though the report isn’t clear — on behalf of hundreds of people who took part in the scheme. Dr. Dowd and Dr. Ribeiro also profited handsomely, according to authorities. Dr. Dowd, they say, earned roughly $9,500 per surgery. Dr. Ribeiro is accused of treating nearly 200 participants during the con and of often paying kickbacks to them to drum up additional referrals.
If convicted on all charges, including mail and wire fraud, each of the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.
This isn’t the first time such a scheme has been hatched and carried out in New York City.
In May 2020, three men were sentenced to prison for their involvement in a similar slip-and-fall operation that took place between 2013 and 2018. (Their sentencing followed an earlier conviction for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.)
Like the most recent scheme, the one that began in 2013 preyed on the hopeless. “The whole essence of this conspiracy is to find the down-and-out, find the desperate, find the homeless,” the sentencing judge said at the time. “No person who has a job and education and can support his or her family even minimally is going to say, ‘Oh, I’ll undergo unnecessary back surgery for a thousand dollars.’ These people were vulnerable and desperate.”