He's still a cop of sorts, but his quarry is different

March 13, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Here sits Ronald Sallow, associate commissioner of the state's Insurance Fraud Division that saved Maryland drivers about $6.5 million last year, and he wants to talk about insurance when the juiciest stories are all about his fistfight with the former heroin dealer Liddie Jones at the old Civic Center, or the time the drug dealer Junior Monroe pointed a gun at his face and pulled the trigger on Vine Street, or those nights Sallow was a narcotics cop who was the first man through the door on raids.

All of these things were very exciting at the time, Sallow allows, but he's sitting here now in a suit and tie. Time marches on. He's ready to talk about the work done by the 25 people in his office, and the estimated $2 billion a year that insurance fraud costs the state.

Liddie Jones, that case was long ago. Junior Monroe, so many years back. All those drug raids, all that craziness ...

Sallow, 51, was a narcotics cop from 1967 to 1974, back when the city was waking up to its first generation of serious trouble. John "Liddie" Jones ran as big an organization as anybody back then, and Sallow was the investigator who made the criminal case against him.

"Ancient history," Sallow says now.

Yeah, but what history. After he'd busted Liddie, he bumped into him at the Civic Center. Liddie was awaiting trial. It was fight night in the boxing ring, but melee night on the lower concourse, where Liddie walked in with several colleagues, saw Sallow in street clothes, and threw a hard right hand that drove Sallow's glasses into his face and cut him badly under both eyes.

"I threw a knee into [a delicate area] and held on for dear life," Sallow remembered yesterday. "Two officers saw what was happening. They jump in, and so does all of Liddie's crew. We finally get Liddie against a stairway, and he grabs an officer's gun and tries to pull it from his holster. I was gonna shoot him. But I'm afraid it could bounce off a wall and hit somebody in the crowd, which is all over the place."

Liddie managed to sink a few teeth into Sallow's arm. Here we are, a quarter-century later, and Sallow rolls up his shirtsleeve. There, he says, embedded in his arm, is the outline of Liddie Jones' dental work.

The morning after the fight, Sallow's driving to work with the radio on, and he hears the voice of Charlie Eckman: "... and I want to tell you, the best fight at the Civic Center last night didn't take place inside the ring ..."

"God rest his soul," Sallow says. He means Charlie's, not Liddie's. Liddie got a 30-year prison sentence for dealing heroin, got out and now face charges of attempting to rape a woman he suspected of being a police informant.

"All that was another part of my life," Sallow says. He steers the conversation back to insurance. His office was created nearly two years ago by Gov. Parris Glendening, and works with state police and the attorney general's office. Though a state agency, its funding comes from private insurance companies willing to spend money to cut into huge insurance fraud.

Sallow slipped into such work after leaving the Police Department. He was lucky to be alive after that scary night on Vine Street, where the cops raided Alexander "Junior" Monroe's apartment, Sallow chased Monroe into a bathroom and Monroe turned and pointed his gun at Sallow's face. Sallow pointed back. So many years later, he can still remember what he was thinking.

"I thought, 'You're gonna miss, and he's gonna kill you.' I never heard my gun go off. I saw the muzzle flash. And the bullet hit Monroe so hard, he dropped his gun and landed in the next room."

When Sallow moved to the state's attorney's office, he investigated white-collar crimes. He started seeing the kind of insurance cases he oversees today.

One day in the state's attorney's office, a fellow named Envil Wilson called to say he lent his car to a friend. The friend claimed he then had a collision with another car, injuring five people who were now claiming damages. But Wilson said there was no sign of a collision on his own car.

Sallow and another investigator found bills from Provident Hospital for the five "victims." The names set off bells. Some of them were known accident chasers. They noticed an odd thing. There were lots of plaintiffs but no lawyers. They noticed another odd thing: the emergency room reports. They were handwritten. And, miracle of miracles, they were legible.

"When has anybody ever been able to read the handwriting on an emergency room report?" Sallow chuckles now.

It turned out, one of the conspirators worked the night shift at the hospital. She'd filched some hospital forms, and they'd made out phony accident reports, which they took to insurance companies to make out-of-court settlements with nervous agents. A network of cases evolved, in which 30 people were indicted.

After a decade in the state's attorney's office, Sallow went to work for private insurers, then for the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund. When Governor Glendening formed the state's Insurance Fraud Division nearly two years ago, some smart people told him Sallow was the best man for the job. He's behind his desk by 6: 30 every morning and routinely puts in 14-hour days.

"Well," he says, "the people around me do the real work."

This, from a guy who knows real work when he sees it.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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