Chiropractor gave $5,000 cash to sister, girlfriend of 'runner'

Published: 2011-05-10 02:46:27
Author: Mark E. Vogler | Eagle Tribune | May 6, 2011

An ex-employee of Kaplan Chiropractic Office testified yesterday that soon after 'runner' Leo Lopez's capture in Georgia, clinic operator Michael Kaplan handed him an envelope containing $5,000 in cash to give to Leo's sister and girlfriend.

In dramatic testimony during the 15th day of the auto insurance fraud trial in Salem Superior Court, prosecution witness Eddie Perez demonstrated and described how Kaplan "wiped off" the white Sovereign Bank envelope containing the cash, as if he were trying to remove fingerprints, before handing it over to Perez.

"This is for Elsa and Ana," Perez, 32, of Lawrence, quoted Kaplan as telling him who was to receive the money, referring to Lopez's longtime girlfriend Elsa Moure and his sister, Ana Lopez.

Perez, a U.S. mail carrier, worked for Kaplan as a chiropractor's assistant and occasional van driver for more than seven years. He said the two women visited Kaplan's office prior to the alleged cash hand-off.

"I wanted to know what was going on," Perez recalled asking Kaplan after the women left the North Andover clinic.

"He (Kaplan) said they came in asking for money. Leo Lopez had just been captured in Georgia. The bail was $20,000 and they wanted money," Perez testified.

Kaplan, 49, of Hampstead, N.H., is one of three defendants accused of filing fraudulent insurance claims for accidents that never happened.

Kaplan's codefendants are Andover attorney James C. Hyde, 59, of Boxford and Omar Castillo, 38, of Methuen, a former van driver for Kaplan Chiropractic Office.

Lopez, 31, of Lawrence, is the prosecution's star witness in the trial and has been characterized by investigators as "the mastermind" behind numerous fake car crashes he claimed to have organized to scam insurance companies during 2001 and 2002. He testified earlier in the trial to getting paid by Kaplan and Hyde to provide clients who participated in the phony car crashes.

Lopez was hiding out in a small town in the Savannah, Ga., area when detectives of the Lawrence auto insurance fraud task force, with the help of the U.S. marshals, tracked him down on Labor Day 2006.

Perez, who later became a witness for the state attorney general's office, left Kaplan's before a grand jury indicted Kaplan, Hyde, Castillo and five others in April 2008.

During yesterday's testimony, Perez told Assistant State Attorney General William R. Freeman of several conversations he had with Kaplan, which led him to believe the chiropractor knew that Lopez — then a van driver for Kaplan — was setting up staged crashes.

Perez also admitted that he participated as a passenger in a "live" car crash on Jan. 16, 2002 crash in Methuen. That's the crash in which Lopez included his girlfriend and their 6-year-old son as passengers in one of the cars.

Perez testified yesterday that he was shocked to learn after reading the operator's report for that crash that Lopez also involved his 1992 Lexus. At that point, Perez said he expected the crash would later become the subject of an insurance fraud investigation.

"Dude. You used your car. We're screwed," Perez recalled telling Lopez.

"They're (fraud investigators) going to be onto us," he said.

Perez said he also shared his concerns with Kaplan.

"I told him I just found out we used Leo's car," Perez testified.

"He said 'it will be fine It's just a coincidence' that two people who work together got in the same car accident." Perez said.

After accepting the $5,000 in cash, Perez said he expressed his concerns to Kaplan about it becoming "an every month event."

The trial is set to go into its fifth week on Monday, with Perez returning to the stand for cross examination by defense lawyers. Freeman told Judge Howard Whitehead yesterday that Perez might be the prosecution's final witness.

Kaplan said "it's going to have to stop," according to Perez, who said there were other incidents of Kaplan handing out money. He recalled a visit from Lopez's parents.

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