Two Columbia businessmen, allegedly part of an international insurance scheme that prosecutors say defrauded policyholders of millions of dollars in premiums, were arrested yesterday along with a Maryland insurance broker on charges of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud and money laundering.
The indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Newark, N.J., charged the three men with illegally selling insurance policies, operating a scheme to defraud policyholders and trying to move money out of the country. Two of the men, who are brothers, were also charged with attempting to extort $725,000 from a national association of nurses.
Named in the charges were Martin A. Bramson and Leonard A. Bramson, both of Columbia, and Warren H. Berkle Jr., an insurance broker who worked closely with the two businessmen, according to the indictment.
If convicted, Martin Bramson, 45, could receive sentences totaling 185 years in prison and more than $9 million in fines, according to a statement from the FBI's Baltimore office, which conducted much of the investigation.
Leonard Bramson, 44, could receive 180 years in prison and more than $9 million in fines.
Mr. Berkle, 41, who owned Associated Insurance Co. in Columbia, could face up to 80 years in prison and $4.25 million in fines.
In a separate civil complaint filed by the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland, Leonard and Martin Bramson are alleged to have helped form companies "to defraud physicians and other health care professionals out of millions of dollars in malpractice insurance premiums." Much of the money that was collected was allegedly moved overseas.
The Maryland complaint asked the court to freeze all money contained in 13 bank accounts and to enjoin the defendants from continuing to sell malpractice insurance.
The first 13 counts of the New Jersey indictment stem from an insurance company allegedly controlled by the Bramsons and Mr. Berkle since early last year.
According to the indictment, the company, Preferred Indemnity Insurance Co., continued to sell policies for asbestos and pollution liabilities although its license had been revoked after a company linked to the three men took over. Preferred Indemnity also used "false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises" to sell policies, the indictment said.
Later, as New Jersey officials prepared to seize Preferred Indemnity, the indictment said, Leonard Bramson tried to transfer company funds to bank accounts in foreign countries.
The indictment said a second company, Trans-Pacific Insurance Co. (F.S.M.), which is based in the Federated States of Micronesia, allegedly attempted to extort $725,000 from a group representing 60,000 nurses nationwide. The indictment alleged that the Bramsons "threatened financial and economic injury" to the company buying the malpractice insurance if it did not agree to move the money outside U.S. legal jurisdiction. Mr. Berkle was not named in the Trans-Pacific charges listed in the indictment.