Bramson admits role in scheme Ex-insurance agent, fugitive pleads guilty to money laundering

November 06, 1997|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Martin Bramson, the one-time Maryland fugitive who led authorities on a worldwide chase after taking up to $20 million in a huge insurance fraud scheme, pleaded guilty yesterday to laundering money through a Swiss bank, federal prosecutors in New Jersey said.

It was the first time that Bramson -- who during his six years on the run opened a bar outside Tijuana, Mexico, and battled extradition from jail cells in Liechtenstein and Switzerland -- has admitted guilt in the complex scam. He still faces charges of mail and wire fraud in Maryland.

The guilty plea came in U.S. District Court in Trenton, where Bramson, 51, admitted that he committed money laundering during the course of insurance-related fraud. He will be sentenced to between five and nine years in federal prison at a Jan. 26 hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. McInnis said.

Then he will be returned to Maryland, where the bulk of the allegations against him have been made, McInnis said.

"What we did today is a small slice of a much bigger picture," McInnis said.

Maryland prosecutors say Bramson, his father, Norman, and his brother Leonard, operating out of a small office in Columbia, defrauded millions of dollars from doctors and others in 48 states. The Bramsons, court papers said, set up bogus "shell corporations" whose main purpose was to move insurance premiums to hundreds of off-shore bank accounts in such countries as Luxembourg, Panama and the Cayman Islands.

In his plea agreement, Bramson admitted that he tried to transfer $348,000 in the fall of 1990 from a Dean Witter account in the

United States to New World Bank Ltd. in Zurich, Switzerland.

Although the Bramsons were based in Maryland, New Jersey authorities became involved when one of the family's Micronesia-based companies, Trans-Pacific Insurance Co., wrote suspicious policies for 8,500 nurses in New Jersey. Trans-Pacific had insured the New Jersey nurses along with 52,000 other nurses across the country.

Violating basic rules

But Trans-Pacific, like the numerous other Bramson companies, were in violation of basic rules because the insurers had not obtained licenses in each state and hadn't put millions of dollars in reserve to protect policyholders.

And when claims arrived, the Bramsons almost always refused to pay them, court papers said.

A court-appointed receiver, Maryland First Financial Services Corp. in Baltimore, has recovered about $7 million in assets that the Bramsons had tried to hide in roughly 600 bank accounts around the world. But James A. Gordon, the head of Maryland First, has continued the hunt, saying he believes millions more may still be hidden.

At the time of his arrest in the tiny nation of Liechtenstein in January 1995, Martin Bramson was carrying $3.2 million in gold and Swiss francs. Gordon is still trying to recover that money -- believed to have been profits from the scheme -- through the Liechtenstein courts. He is also trying to obtain a court order to open a bank deposit box in Zurich belonging to Norman Bramson.

"Nothing in this case has been easy," Gordon said yesterday.

McInnis, the prosecutor in New Jersey, wouldn't comment on any efforts to recover money that may remain hidden. Neither would Martin Bramson's lawyer in New Jersey, Frederick Klepp.

Norman Bramson, who was convicted of mail fraud for his part in the scheme, served nearly 33 months in federal prison and now lives in Jessup. Leonard Bramson, who traveled around the world and set up the bank accounts, pleaded guilty in 1994 to laundering between $6 million and $10 million and is serving an eight-year prison term.

Fled house arrest

Martin Bramson, a former pharmacist with a law degree, was awaiting trial when he fled from house arrest in October 1991. Prosecutors allege that for three years he lived off the proceeds from the money hidden in the foreign bank accounts, at one point opening a bar called Taboo in Ensenada, Mexico, about an hour south of San Diego.

At the time Bramson was running the bar -- which family members said he outfitted with new Naugahyde stools -- his father was living as a fugitive in La Jolla, Calif. Norman Bramson, living under the alias Nick Volpe, was captured in 1993 when several senior citizens, who were his regular dancing partners, turned him in to the FBI after seeing him featured on "America's Most Wanted."

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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