Leroy Nelson, it's fair to assume, has never owned a "remote aircraft landing marker." Or a "seismographic probe." Or a "chemical pipeline examiner," which sounds like it would be a person but actually appears to be a made-up piece of equipment.
Nelson, though, is not the type to let bourgeois notions of "ownership" and "physical existence" get the way of his profit. The 61-year-old Desoto man pleaded guilty this morning to running a scheme that collected $5 million through fraudulent insurance claims.
The con went like this: Starting around 2005, Nelson began recruiting business partners, paying them cash and having them filing false reports to their insurance companies, usually claiming they had accidentally rear-ended a trailer or swerved and hit a piece of equipment sitting on the side of the road. Nelson, in turn, would submit a claim using the name of a shell business he created, including a photo of the equipment and a fictitious repair estimate, usually between $16,000 and $19,000. He had the settlement checks mailed to a couple of warehouses on Explorer Street in Dallas or to post office boxes he rented.
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The insurance company or companies (Farmers is the only one named in prosecutors' announcement of Nelson's guilty plea) eventually caught on, as tends to happen when one starts filing made-up claims, though it took awhile. Nelson's scheme lasted from 2005 to 2012, and even then authorities don't seem to have grasped its full extent. Since he was indicted last April, the feds' estimate of his total fraud expanded from $3.5 million to $5 million.
Nelson now faces up to 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Authorities have seized several vehicles, a motor home, a boat and trailer, and real estate in Duncanville and Cooper.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.