36 charged in fraud scheme involving staged automobile crashes in the tri-state area


Evansville – United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler, yesterday announced federal charges against 36 individuals in an elaborate scheme to defraud insurance companies by staging automobile crashes and filing false police reports.  Three SWAT teams and over 70 federal, state and local law enforcement officials served warrants this morning in the tri-state area, apprehending those involved.

“The Burris family is the face of organized crime in the Evansville area,” said Minkler. “My office has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to those who conspire to steal money and put countless lives at risk through their dangerous scheme.”

The indictment alleges that between 2008 and 2014, Michael W. Burris, Sr. 56, his wife Lisa K. Burris, 53, their sons Justin A. Burris, 26, and David B. Smitha, 38, and others, planned a series of automobile crashes in and around Evansville.  They recruited persons to participate in the staged crashes, made false police reports about the crashes, and then filed claims with insurance providers for “injuries” suffered in the crash which were self-inflicted or fabricated.

In several scenarios, members of the Burris family conspiracy acquired an automobile to use in the staged crash and made certain the vehicle was insured or obtained insurance just weeks before the staged crash.  They would then recruit someone to crash the vehicle in a remote area, into a tree or other fixed object causing significant damage.  After the crash, the driver would leave the scene and other recruited participants waiting nearby would enter the vehicle and wait for emergency personnel to respond.  They would then make a false police report and be taken to the hospital for their purported injuries.  Vehicles were often loaded with three or four people after the staged crash to maximize insurance claims.

The indictment further alleges Burris Sr. and his conspirators purposely injured the “victims” to create an appearance that they sustained the injuries in the crash.  They did this by punching them in the face, cutting their face with a razor blade and using a wire brush on their forehead.

Lisa Burris and other conspirators instructed the crash participants on how to appear injured by not exiting the vehicle under their own power, using emergency medical resources, and running up medical expenses through hospital stays.  She had the “victims” submit false insurance claims and would coach them on how to answer questions from the insurance representatives.  When the crash participants received their injury claim checks from the insurance companies, it is alleged in the Indictment that Michael Burris, Sr. and the participants would go directly to the bank on which the check was written, get cash, and divide it among the conspirators.

This case was investigated by the United States Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, Evansville Police Department, Indiana State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office, the United States Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives assisted in the arrest of the 36 persons charged in the indictment today.

“Over the last year and half, the Secret Service has tirelessly pursued justice with the assistance of many other federal, state and local agencies,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Paul Dvorak.  “Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime.  This type of fraud can have a significant detrimental effect on the economy of our community.  We are proud that the significant and numerous arrests made here today will have a positive impact on the city of Evansville and hopefully deter similar crimes in the future.”

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue to strongly pursue its mission of investigating mail fraud crimes and protecting the US Postal Service and its customers,” stated Inspector in Charge, Tommy Coke, Pittsburgh Division, U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

“When I started my career in retail loss prevention over twenty years ago, the Burris family and their associates were one of the first criminal groups I dealt with,” said Evansville Police Chief Billy Bolin.  “It would be nice if they learned from their past mistakes, but it appears they’ve just become more sophisticated in their schemes.”

“I’m pleased the state police were able to play a role in advancing this investigation” said Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter.  “Financial crimes like this impact insurance premiums for honest people and this particular criminal enterprise also resulted in public safety resources responding to staged crash scenes,” Carter concluded.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Todd S. Shellenbarger and Kyle Sawa who are prosecuting this case for the government, each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and 3 years of supervised release.

An indictment is only a charge and not an indication of guilt. Each defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


The following individuals were indicted


Michael W. Burris, Sr.            Age 56                       Evansville, Indiana

Lisa K. Burris                          Age 53                      Evansville, Indiana

David B. Smitha                     Age 38                       Evansville, Indiana

Justin A. Burris                       Age 26                       Evansville, Indiana

Amanda J. Carreno                Age 35                       Evansville, Indiana

Timothy S. Ivy                         Age 44                      Evansville, Indiana

Michael W. Burris, Jr.              Age 30                      Evansville, Indiana

Timothy P. Rice                       Age 38                      Evansville, Indiana

Shawn M. Wright                     Age 21                      Henderson, Kentucky

Jordan T. Lawrence                Age 21                       Evansville, Indiana

Joshua J. Norman                   Age 25                      Evansville, Indiana

Shaun T. Gibson                     Age 36                      Evansville, Indiana

Kyle Blake Lee Smitha            Age 20                      Evansville, Indiana

Thomas J. Thomas                 Age 21                      Evansville, Indiana

Alyssa R. Vailes                      Age 22                      Evansville, Indiana

Latisha L. Smith                      Age 36                      Evansville, Indiana

Dillon A. Williams                    Age 22                      Evansville, Indiana

Brooke N. Cox                        Age 32                       Evansville, Indiana

Brooke N. Ewers                    Age 27                       Evansville, Indiana

Toni J. Wilson                         Age 41                       Evansville, Indiana

Jerry A. McGill                        Age 55                       Evansville, Indiana

Benjamin W. Widick               Age 42                        Evansville, Indiana

Lynn M. Smitha                      Age 34                        Evansville, Indiana

Phillip J. Gibson                      Age 37                       Chandler, Indiana

Michelle L. Stuard                   Age 30                       Evansville, Indiana

Ariel R. Pace                           Age 24                       Evansville, Indiana

Ashley N. Hines                      Age 29                       Evansville, Indiana

Crystal D. Uziekalla                 Age 41                       Evansville, Indiana

David W. Uziekalla                  Age 38                       Wadesville, Indiana

Tiffany L. Bowen                     Age 26                       Evansville, Indiana

Shawna M. Morell                   Age 35                       Chandler, Indiana

Jamey L. Grant                       Age 27                        Evansville, Indiana

Ryan Maun                             Age 28                        Evansville, Indiana

Mary E. Houchin                     Age 36                        Evansville, Indiana

Theresa A. Frank                    Age 31                        Boonville, Indiana

Sherry W. Greenwalt              Age 41                        Evansville, Indiana

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