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Montgomery Co. attorney caught in FBI probe to be sentenced Friday

A recently disbarred lawyer from Montgomery County will be sentenced this week to as much as 20 years in prison for his role in a multistate insurance scam ring.

Amir Ryan Lahuti, 45, was one of four people who recruited drivers to make false medical claims after accidents. Under an agreement with federal prosecutors in Virginia, he pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, while two counts of mail fraud were dropped.

A month later, Lahuti, who had two law offices in Maryland and one in Virginia, gave up the right to practice law in Maryland. He was disbarred by consent on June 14.

And on Aug. 5, Lahuti will be the last member of the ring to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. In addition to the prison term, he could be fined $250,000 and put on probation for three years.

Recruiting victims

Prosecutors said Lahuti and chiropractor Jason P. Carle, of Falls Church, Va., had “an ongoing business relationship” that started in 2006. At some unspecified point, they started using two “runners” to recruit victims of car accidents and take them to Lahuti for legal services and Carle for medical treatment.

Those recruited were coached to make false claims or exaggerate injuries to get higher payouts from insurance companies, prosecutors said.

Carle, who operated chiropractic clinics in Silver Spring and Oxon Hill, pleaded guilty May 18 to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. He was sentenced Friday to six months in prison and ordered to pay $17,400 in restitution. After his release from prison, Carle will be under house arrest for four months.

Marla B. Tusk, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a July 22 sentencing memo that Carle acted out of a combination of “bad judgment and simple greed.”

“All told, [Carle] was someone who should have known and behaved better,” Tusk wrote.

According to court records, Lahuti and Carle paid a fee to Kenneth C. Williams, of Silver Spring, a “runner” with two decades’ experience recruiting accident victims for medical and legal clients for a fee. Williams worked primarily in the District of Columbia metro area getting police reports and patient records illegally to find new recruits for Lahuti and Carle, records say.

The 2006 White Collar Insurance Fraud Act prohibits the D.C. police from releasing accident reports for three weeks after an accident. Williams said he received reports daily from various police districts by falsely claiming to meet eligibility requirements to get them.

The statement of facts filed with Williams’ plea said he also had a hospital contact in Maryland that fed him names and patient records for people admitted for auto accident injuries.

According to court records, Williams’ standard pitch to prospective clients was that he worked as an investigator for an attorney and had a way for them to pocket as much as $15,000 as long as they went to regular chiropractic sessions.

Williams occasionally would engage Alba M. Bustamante, who speaks Spanish, if there was a language barrier with those being recruited. Williams averaged $1,000 for each referral and Bustamante received $300 or $400 per referral.

Williams was sentenced July 15 to 26 months in federal prison, minus time served. He also was ordered to pay $109,215 in restitution. Bustamante was sentenced to six months in federal prison and ordered to pay $53,415 in restitution.

The sting

Lahuti and his cohorts first got on the FBI’s radar during a May 2010 undercover investigation into insurance scams in the District of Columbia. Investigators slipped a bogus traffic crash report into the D.C. police records. The driver, whose vehicle supposedly was rear-ended in the crash, was actually an undercover FBI agent.

A day after the accident supposedly happened, the agent was contacted by Bustamante. She left a message saying to call her “to obtain a substantial reward and to receive medical treatment.”

The agent spoke with Bustamante the following day and told her he had not been injured in the accident. According to court records, Bustamante told him it was not a problem and he could still get paid and that the lawyer and chiropractor worked directly with each other. The agent made 12 office visits to Carle and was signed up to be represented by Lahuti.

The lawyer filed a claim on the agent’s behalf with an insurer in Virginia seeking $8,000 and ultimately settled for $2,000, according to court documents.

The investigation also revealed that Lahuti once even recruited himself. Riding his bike on May 19, 2009, he was clipped by a car and promptly sued the driver and claimed to be incapacitated and unable to work for weeks.

Lahuti claimed to have gone 32 times to Carle for treatment and used those fake records to file bodily insurance and personal injury protection claims with GEICO’s claims office in Virginia.

Initially, Lahuti demanded $140,000 from the company but ultimately settled the bodily injury claim for $11,000 and the personal injury protection claim for $6,400.

Carle’s take of the settlement was $3,500.

When the FBI checked Lahuti’s story, it found Immigration and Customs Bureau records showing that he and his wife had traveled outside the U.S. for 42 days between May 19 and Aug. 28, including the time he claimed to have been incapacitated by his injuries.

During that period, Lahuti also claimed to have been to 12 chiropractic treatments with Carle.

‘Tainted’ clients

Lahuti owned and operated the Law Offices of Ryan A. Lahuti P.C., which had offices in Silver Spring, Langley Park, and Falls Church, Va.

The fate of his clients not involved in the fraud remains uncertain.

“He has left hundreds of people without a lawyer,” said Joel A. Skirble of Falls Church. Skirble said he and other lawyers who reach out to Hispanic clients have been busy with potential claims.

In Maryland, Diego Rojas, president of the Maryland State Hispanic Bar Association, said he had heard about the Lahuti case. He said he had not heard of anyone contacting the association so far who had been a client of Lahuti.

Casa de Maryland, an advocacy group in Montgomery County, did not respond to inquiries Friday.

Other lawyers say they are giving the claims a close look in light of allegations that lawyers, chiropractors and runners invented and exaggerated auto accident injuries. Paul A. Samakow of Vienna, Va., said he told his staff they would be doing “a little extra screening” for former Lahuti clients.

Insurance companies are downright skeptical of anyone who had anything to do with Lahuti, Samakow said.

“Some of the insurers, on some of the cases where he was involved, have put up hurdles because of the taint of fraud,” he said.

Alan Cooper of Virginia Lawyers Weekly contributed to this story.