Another 'runner' implicates attorney and chiropractor in fake crashes

Published: 2011-05-04 10:40:49
Author: Mark E. Vogler | Eagle Tribune | May 3, 2011

A few years ago, Christopher Luis Ortega agreed to testify against his former Lawrence High School classmate and friend Leo Lopez — who was reputed then and now by fraud investigators to be the area's most notorious architect of bogus car crashes.

Ortega, 32, of Lawrence, testified as a "cooperating witness" for the prosecution again yesterday in the ongoing auto insurance fraud trial at Salem Superior Court.

But this time the "runner," commonly known as "Mista," took the witness stand to help corroborate Lopez's story about how he got paid by Andover attorney James C. Hyde and North Andover chiropractic clinic operator Michael Kaplan to bring them clients to file insurance claims for accidents that never happened.

"We were making fake car accidents," Ortega told Assistant State Attorney General William R. Freeman yesterday, recalling his association with Lopez in setting up insurance scams from the middle of 2001 into late 2002.

"We would grab a few people who were looking to be in a fake accident who needed the money," Ortega testified.

During the twelfth day of the trial, Ortega testified that he collaborated with Lopez in setting up all three "paper" accidents — Oct. 1, Oct. 10 and Dec. 20 in 2002 — which are the basis of the criminal charges against the three defendants.

Ortega's testimony implicated attorney Hyde, 59, of Boxford and Kaplan, 49, of Hampstead, N.H., who are accused of filing fraudulent insurance claims. Kaplan is linked to all three accidents. Hyde's charges only relate to the Oct. 1 and Dec. 20 accidents.

The third defendant in the trial — Omar Castillo, 38, of Methuen, a former van driver for Kaplan Chiropractic Office — was not hurt by Ortega's testimony yesterday.

When Judge Howard Whitehead asked Ortega whether anyone else besides him and Lopez were involved in the Dec. 20 accident, Ortega said he couldn't remember. Castillo is charged with filing a fraudulent claim for the Dec. 20 accident which he allegedly "set up." But Ortega was unable to corroborate that allegation yesterday,

During yesterday's testimony, Ortega described Lopez and Kaplan as "pretty good friends."

Prosecutor Freeman asked him if there were "times when they didn't get along."

"When accidents were messing up and they didn't look right," Ortega responded.

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