Attorney General Maura Healey announced that a conspiracy that procured perjured testimony in a 2012 auto body insurance fraud case has resulted in guilty pleas by Fred Battista, age 54, of Winthrop and David Forlizzi, age 56, of Peabody.
Witness bribery, suborning perjury and obstruction of justice in the 2012 trial
Mr. Battista and Mr. Forlizzi pleaded guilty last week in Suffolk Superior Court to charges of corrupting a witness, suborning perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy.
The charges all arose out of the defendants bribing witnesses to perjure themselves as part of a conspiracy to obtain acquittals at a March 2012 insurance fraud trial involving a scheme to intentionally damage motor vehicles in order to make insurance claims.
Both Mr. Forlizzi and Mr. Battista will be sentenced at Suffolk Superior Court in September. The charges of corrupting a witness, obstruction of justice and conspiracy are punishable by up to ten years in state prison. Subornation of perjury, however, is punishable by up to twenty years in state prison.
Agency Checklists does not know what the Attorney General will recommend when Mr. Forlizzi and Mr. Battista are sentenced next month. However, based on the following facts showing the defendants actions in turning their 2012 insurance fraud trial into a legal farce, they may be looking at a significant amount of jail time.
2007 investigation of insurance fraud
An investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s Office began in July 2007 after the matter was referred to them by the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB). During the course of the investigation, authorities discovered that on various dates between May 2006 and June 2007, fraudulent claims involving three staged accidents were submitted to insurance companies. Authorities allege that several persons knew Mr. Forlizzi and Mr. Battista (both employees of Winthrop Collision Center, also known as Collision Headquarters) were willing to pay people to submit fraudulent motor vehicle insurance claims. Investigators believe that Mr. Forlizzi and Mr. Battista schemed to collect insurance money from these staged accidents.
One of the accidents involved Janet Vaccari, who submitted a claim to her insurance company Plymouth Rock Assurance Corporation (PRAC), stating that she had been involved in a motor vehicle accident with Laura Battista. PRAC paid Ms. Vaccari’s claim, and also paid Ms. Battista based on the fraudulent information given by Ms. Vaccari. Ms. Vaccari signed over her insurance check to the Winthrop Collision Center for repairs on her vehicle. Authorities discovered that Mr. Forlizzi assisted Ms. Vaccari in staging this accident with the help of Ms. Battista, and her stepson, Fred Mr. Battista.
During the investigation authorities discovered that a second fraudulent claim was submitted by Deana Pistone to her insurance company, also PRAC, alleging that her vehicle had been vandalized. She claimed to PRAC that as a result of the vandalism, she brought her car to Winthrop Collision Center for repair. She later withdrew her claim after PRAC began investigating the incident. Ms. Pistone admitted that the claim was false and that Mr. Forlizzi convinced her to submit a false claim.
A third claim found to be fraudulent was submitted by William Penta, who stated to his insurance company, National Grange Mutual Insurance (NGM), that he had struck a parked vehicle belonging to Ms. Battista. NGM paid the claim for the damage to the vehicle which Mr. Penta was driving, and also paid Ms. Battista for the alleged damage to her vehicle. Mr. Penta then filed a Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”) claim for injuries sustained in the accident. Investigators discovered that Mr. Penta had known Mr. Battista prior to the staged accident, and it is through this relationship that Mr. Penta became involved in the insurance fraud scheme.
Fraud ring indicted for enhancing vehicle damages to collect higher insurance payments
In March 2008, a Suffolk County Grand Jury returned indictments against six individuals, including Mr. Battista and Mr. Forlizzi – who ran Collision Headquarters, Inc., an auto body shop in Winthrop – for Insurance Fraud, Larceny, and Conspiracy relating to false automobile insurance property damage claims. Janet Vaccari, Deana Pistone, Laura Battista, and William Penta were also charged.
Four members of ring plead out and fingered Mr. Battista and Mr. Forlizzi as ringleaders
In November 2008, Ms. Vaccari, Mr. Penta, Ms. Pistone, and Ms. Battista pleaded guilty to Motor Vehicle Insurance Fraud, Conspiracy to Commit Motor Vehicle Insurance Fraud, Larceny by False Pretenses and Attempted Larceny.
During the investigation, Ms. Vaccari, Ms. Pistone and Mr. Penta gave recorded statements to investigators that Mr. Battista and Mr. Forlizzi orchestrated the insurance fraud scheme. They also confirmed these statements before the Superior Court judge hearing their guilty pleas.
Ms. Battista was sentenced to five years of probation, $12,941.25 in restitution, and 100 hours of community service. Mr. Penta received a sentence of two years in the House of Correction, suspended for two years under probation, $4,303.75 in restitution and 40 hours of community service. Ms. Pistone also received two years of probation and 40 hours of community service. Ms. Vaccari received five years of probation, $8,420.38 in restitution and 100 hours of community service.
At trial, ring members that pleaded guilty change testimony and exonerate Mr. Forlizzi and Mr. Battista
Mr. Forlizzi and Mr. Battista did not plead guilty but instead demanded a jury trial. In March of 2012, a jury was impaneled. The Attorney General’s star witnesses against the two defendants were slated to be Ms. Vaccari, Mr. Penta, Ms. Pistone, and Ms. Battista. Each had given recorded statements to the prosecutors and while pleading guilty had stated in open court that Mr. Forlizzi and Mr. Battista had engineered the fraudulent claim schemes.
However, to the surprise of everyone in the courtroom, Ms. Vaccari, Mr. Penta, and Ms. Battista swore under oath in front of the jury that neither Mr. Forlizzi nor Mr. Battista were aware of the fraud nor had arranged it.
This testimony was in direct contradiction to the previously recorded statements they had given investigators and in contradiction of their factual admissions made under oath during their individual prior guilty pleas. The fourth witness, Ms. Pistone, did not testify as she had fled the state prior to the March 2012 trial to avoid testifying.
Judge acquits defendants and requests investigation into a possible fraud on the court
Since the Attorney General had no case without the testimony of Mr. Forlizzi’s and Mr. Battista’s co-conspirators, the trial judge discharged the jury and ordered the entry of “not guilty” judgments on the indictments.
However, the judge also recommended from the bench that the Attorney General commence an investigation into whether perjury, subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice had occurred, including whether a fraud had been committed upon the Court.
Investigation finds money paid by defendants for perjured testimony
The Attorney General’s investigation uncovered evidence that Mr. Forlizzi and Mr. Battista had procured perjured testimony at the trial from Ms. Vaccari, Ms. Battista and Mr. Penta. They had paid thousands of dollars to Ms. Battista to obtain her false testimony, and paid money to Ms. Vaccari to keep Ms. Pistone out of state so she would be unavailable to testify at the trial. Among other evidence, investigators learned that Mr. Forlizzi, Mr. Battista, Ms. Vaccari and Ms. Battista had met shortly before the trial, to concoct the false story that Ms. Vaccari and Ms. Laura would testify as to how one of the false auto insurance claims had come about. Investigators also uncovered a text message that Mr. Battista had sent to Mr. Penta during the trial, in which Mr. Battista told Mr. Penta: “Tell Laura stick to her story.”
Grand Jury issues new indictments resulting from bribery of witnesses and perjury
As a result of the investigation requested by the trial judge, in November, 2012, all six defendants were indicted by a Suffolk County Grand Jury on obstruction of justice, corruption of witnesses, perjury and conspiracy charges.
Ms. Vaccari, Ms. Battista and Mr. Penta separately pleaded guilty to all of the charges pending against them. These defendants are scheduled for sentencing on October 7, 2016.