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OFF BEAT: Man's tales of damaged high-tech equipment finally break down

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A word of advice to would-be insurance crooks: Just because a claims adjuster can’t easily recognize a piece of supposedly damaged equipment doesn’t mean it’s a safe bet for fraud.

A Dallas-area man learned that lesson the hard way last year and now will spend nearly a decade in jail for his trouble.

A U.S. District Court judge in Dallas sentenced Leroy Nelson, 61, to nine years in federal prison for his role in a seven-year, multimillion-dollar insurance scam, according to a statement released Jan. 5 by acting U.S. Attorney John Parker.

In addition to the jail time, Mr. Nelson was ordered to pay $4.9 million in restitution.

Mr. Nelson — with the help of other individuals — defrauded several insurance companies from 2005 to 2012 by submitting multiple claims for accidental damage to a single piece of heavy technical equipment, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Each claim, the U.S. attorney’s office said, included a photo of the damaged equipment and a fabricated accident report in which Mr. Nelson’s accomplices would attest to inadvertently striking it while driving, along with phony estimates calling for several thousand dollars in repairs.

To avoid detection, Mr. Nelson identified the equipment differently from claim to claim, using terms such as “remote aircraft landing marker,” “chemical pipeline examiner” and “seismographic probe.”

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Mr. Nelson collected insurance payouts under assumed business names in at least six states. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to one count each of mail fraud and engaging in illegal monetary transactions.