March 13, 2013
OLYMPIA, Wash. - A jury on Wednesday convicted a Spokane man of insurance fraud and attempted theft after a snow-damaged patio cover worth about $4,000 mushroomed into a fraudulent insurance claim for nearly $200,000.
Keith R. Scribner, 48, is slated to be sentenced April 16 in Spokane County Superior Court.
“Insurance fraud isn’t the victimless crime that some people pretend it is,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, whose anti-fraud unit investigated the case. “When people lie on a claim, trying to get a big payout, it unfairly drives up costs for honest policyholders.”
The charges stemmed from an insurance claim Scribner handled on behalf of his mother. In July 2009, she filed a claim with Liberty Mutual insurance. She said a patio roof at a home she’d purchased had collapsed due to the weight of snow six months earlier. The policy covered “like kind and quality” replacement.
Scribner told the insurer that the patio cover was an extensive structure, spanning the entire length of the patio and wrapping around the home’s chimney. He sent three bids to replace the cover as he described it. The bids ranged from $195,586 to $213,815. The company claims representative initially thought the bids were some kind of joke.
Liberty Mutual then asked for photos of the home that showed the structure or the snow damage. Scribner said there weren’t any. But a claims handler found a photo of the home on a real estate website. It showed a much more modest patio cover than what Scribner described.
At that point, the company launched a fraud investigation and notified Kreidler’s Special Investiations Unit.
The investigators discovered that Scribner had met with an appraiser in 2008. The appraiser had taken photos of the patio cover. A real estate agent interviewed by investigators described the cover as being “small and nothing special or significant.”
The previous homeowner also provided investigators with photos of the patio cover. It was originally canvas. When that became troublesome to remove each year, the homeowner bought a polycarbonate cover. Cost: About $300.
A local builder, provided with measurements and photos of the original structure, drew up replacement bids at the request of a state fraud investigator. The bids ranged from $3,913 to $4,782.