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10 indicted in Denver in insurance fraud scheme

Published September 9, 2008 at 1:20 p.m.
Updated September 9, 2008 at 1:20 p.m.

The owner of a Denver company and nine of his employees plotted in weekly meetings to rip off insurance companies by getting subcontractors to turn in fake, inflated bids, according to a 60-count federal indictment.

Disaster Restoration, Inc., routinely submitted bills to insurance companies that were 20 to 30 percent higher than what the company paid subcontractors, the indictment alleges.

It also claims that the chief operating officer, Charles "Chip" Homer Sharp, of Broomfield, threatened at least two of the subcontractors with violence or economic harm if they didn't go along with the scam.

A receptionist at DRI referred calls today to owner Michael Griggs, who was not available for comment and had not returned a message as of this afternoon.

Griggs, of Lafayette, faces 58 counts, including one count of conspiracy, 56 counts of mail fraud and one forfeiture count, for his Lafayette property and two bank accounts.

Also charged with one count of conspiracy and varying counts of mail fraud are: Justin Blackburn, of Lakewood; Mark Troudt, of Broomfield; Jason Cain, of Colorado Springs; Brett Harding, of Thornton; Peter Jennings, of Brighton; Matthew Kaskel, of Denver; Garland Risdon, of Centennial and Daniel Travers of Arvada.

According to its Web site, DRI provides 24-hour emergency service repairing properties damaged by disasters such as fires, vandalism or water damage.

The indictment alleges that the staff would meet every Tuesday to discuss the conspiracy, which started in 2003 and continued until the spring of 2007.

In one instance, Risdon told a subcontractor that "the big boys" wanted two bids for a project — one for the actual cost, and one that was 20 to 30 percent higher, the indictment states.

DRI would then submit the higher estimate to the insurance company for approval and later, for payment, the indictment alleges. DRI paid the subcontractor the lower, actual amount, pocketing the difference, prosecutors say.

"Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime, it hurts everyone," U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge Shawn Tiller said in a statement released today. "Losses from this type of fraud are passed along to the public in the form of higher insurance premiums."

If convicted of conspiracy, the defendants face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In addition to charges of conspiracy and mail fraud, Sharp also faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of interference with commerce through threats or violence.

The defendants, who are not in custody, have been summoned to appear in federal court on Sept. 25 at 1:30 p.m.

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