EVANSVILLE–United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler, announced Tuesday federal charges against 36 individuals in an elaborate scheme to defraud insurance companies by staging automobile crashes and filing false police reports. Three SWAT teams and over 70 federal, state and local law enforcement officials served warrants this morning in the tri-state area, apprehending those involved.
“The Burris family is the face of organized crime in the Evansville area,” said Minkler. “My office has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to those who conspire to steal money and put countless lives at risk through their dangerous scheme.”
The indictment alleges that between 2008 and 2014, Michael W. Burris, Sr. 56, his wife Lisa K. Burris, 53, their sons Justin A. Burris, 26, and David B. Smitha, 38, and others, planned a series of automobile crashes in and around Evansville. They recruited persons to participate in the staged crashes, made false police reports about the crashes, and then filed claims with insurance providers for “injuries” suffered in the crash which were self-inflicted or fabricated.
In several scenarios, members of the Burris family conspiracy acquired an automobile to use in the staged crash and made certain the vehicle was insured or obtained insurance just weeks before the staged crash. They would then recruit someone to crash the vehicle in a remote area, into a tree or other fixed object causing significant damage. After the crash, the driver would leave the scene and other recruited participants waiting nearby would enter the vehicle and wait for emergency personnel to respond. They would then make a false police report and be taken to the hospital for their purported injuries. Vehicles were often loaded with three or four people after the staged crash to maximize insurance claims.
The indictment further alleges Burris Sr. and his conspirators purposely injured the “victims” to create an appearance that they sustained the injuries in the crash. They did this by punching them in the face, cutting their face with a razor blade and using a wire brush on their forehead.
Lisa Burris and other conspirators instructed the crash participants on how to appear injured by not exiting the vehicle under their own power, using emergency medical resources, and running up medical expenses through hospital stays. She had the “victims” submit false insurance claims and would coach them on how to answer questions from the insurance representatives. When the crash participants received their injury claim checks from the insurance companies, it is alleged in the Indictment that Michael Burris, Sr. and the participants would go directly to the bank on which the check was written, get cash, and divide it among the conspirators.
This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, Evansville Police Department, Indiana State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office, the United States Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives assisted in the arrest of the 36 persons charged in the indictment today.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Todd S. Shellenbarger and Kyle Sawa who are prosecuting this case for the government, each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and 3 years of supervised release.
An indictment is only a charge and not an indication of guilt. Each defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The following individuals were indicted:
|Michael W. Burris, Sr.||Age 56||Evansville, Indiana|
|Lisa K. Burris||Age 53||Evansville, Indiana|
|David B. Smitha||Age 38||Evansville, Indiana|
|Justin A. Burris||Age 26||Evansville, Indiana|
|Amanda J. Carreno||Age 35||Evansville, Indiana|
|Timothy S. Ivy||Age 44||Evansville, Indiana|
|Michael W. Burris, Jr.||Age 30||Evansville, Indiana|
|Timothy P. Rice||Age 38||Evansville, Indiana|
|Shawn M. Wright||Age 21||Henderson, Kentucky|
|Jordan T. Lawrence||Age 21||Evansville, Indiana|
|Joshua J. Norman||Age 25||Evansville, Indiana|
|Shaun T. Gibson||Age 36||Evansville, Indiana|
|Kyle Blake Lee Smitha||Age 20||Evansville, Indiana|
|Thomas J. Thomas||Age 21||Evansville, Indiana|
|Alyssa R. Vailes||Age 22||Evansville, Indiana|
|Latisha L. Smith||Age 36||Evansville, Indiana|
|Dillon A. Williams||Age 22||Evansville, Indiana|
|Brooke N. Cox||Age 32||Evansville, Indiana|
|Brooke N. Ewers||Age 27||Evansville, Indiana|
|Toni J. Wilson||Age 41||Evansville, Indiana|
|Jerry A. McGill||Age 55||Evansville, Indiana|
|Benjamin W. Widick||Age 42||Evansville, Indiana|
|Lynn M. Smitha||Age 34||Evansville, Indiana|
|Phillip J. Gibson||Age 37||Chandler, Indiana|
|Michelle L. Stuard||Age 30||Evansville, Indiana|
|Ariel R. Pace||Age 24||Evansville, Indiana|
|Ashley N. Hines||Age 29||Evansville, Indiana|
|Crystal D. Uziekalla||Age 41||Evansville, Indiana|
|David W. Uziekalla||Age 38||Wadesville, Indiana|
|Tiffany L. Bowen||Age 26||Evansville, Indiana|
|Shawna M. Morell||Age 35||Chandler, Indiana|
|Jamey L. Grant||Age 27||Evansville, Indiana|
|Ryan Maun||Age 28||Evansville, Indiana|
|Mary E. Houchin||Age 36||Evansville, Indiana|
|Theresa A. Frank||Age 31||Boonville, Indiana|
|Sherry W. Greenwalt||Age 41||Evansville, Indiana|