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Offshore Insurance Fraud

A man was recently taken into custody in Canada by international group of law enforcement authorities, in what was described as an offshore insurance fraud that involved companies headquartered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

U.S. officials report that both Federal and California State authorities said the international search for a fugitive wanted in connection with a $20 offshore insurance fraud operating out of the Eastern Caribbean, ended with his arrest in Canada.

A federal complaint filed in Sacramento charged the suspect, who was using the alias Robert Lewis Brown, with conspiracy, mail fraud, money laundering and making false statements.

Brown was apprehended in Toronto by the Metropolitan Fugitive Squad on immigration charges and a U.S. arrest warrant. The arrest is part of a continuing effort by the FBI, the IRS, and the California Department of Insurance Investigation Division to shut down the offshore insurance scam that operated through two companies located in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Authorities alleged that, since January 2000, those companies, Tri-Continental Exchange Ltd. and Combined Services Ltd., collected over $20 million in premiums from customers throughout the U.S. for insurance policies they claimed were backed by a collection of real offshore insurance companies. In furtherance of the scheme, Brown and others set up a number of offshore insurance companies on the island of Nevis.

Customers were told to send payments to post office boxes in Phoenix, Arizona. The money was then forwarded first to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and then to a bank account in Blaine, Washington, with some of the money siphoned off to foreign bank accounts.

Tri-Continental, Combined Services, and a third company, Alternative Market Exchange, operated from Marcole Plaza, Halifax Street, Kingstown, and St. Vincent. Investigators from the St. Vincent Financial Intelligence Unit, with assistance by U.S. Agents and Investigators, searched the Tri-Continental offices and seized numerous insurance documents, while an investigator from the IRS Electronic Crimes Program seized computer evidence. Authorities in St. Vincent have also frozen Brown's local bank accounts while extradition is sought. U.S. investigators credit the close, professional co-operation received from St. Vincent authorities with a major role in Brown's arrest. Prosecutors said at least eight states in the U.S. and Canada ordered the companies to stop selling offshore insurance in the last eight years, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. obtained a preliminary federal injunction against the companies in 2001 for trademark infringement.

In early 2004, it is believed that Brown and Tri-Continental started a new offshore insurance company, American Transport Insurance Corporation, headquarted in American Samoa.

The conspiracy, mail fraud and false statements charges carry maximum five-year penalties, while money laundering has a maximum 20-year penalty.