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SCAM ARTIST GETS PRISON

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- A 20-year prison term was imposed on the junior partner in a well-traveled mother and son team of slip-and-fall con artists whom Arizona insurance fraud authorities nabbed last year.

A judge ordered seven years' probation for the man's mother, who has cancer.

The pair was arrested for defrauding the liability insurers of several Arizona businesses. However, the Arizona Insurance Department fraud unit investigator who tracked down the team suspects the pair similarly scammed businesses and insurers in 10 other states across the South. The pair's favorite targets were fast-food chains, large discount store chains and truck stops, said the investigator, Mitch Rea (BI, Sept. 8, 1997).

Robert J. Benge and Mary Alessi faked injuries at the businesses and then duped the liability insurers into making quick settlements to avoid litigation. The pair, who often used aliases and fake Social Security numbers, usually netted settlements of $1,000 to $8,000, according to Mr. Rea.

Only a few persistent insurance adjusters scared off the pair, he said. Those adjusters did not readily dismiss inconsistencies in the pair's names and Social Security numbers.

A Pima County Superior Court jury in Tucson, Ariz., convicted Mr. Benge in May of four counts of fraud and three counts of attempted fraud.

The trial judge on July 20 sentenced Mr. Benge, 27, to four 20-year terms and three 11-year terms, all to be served concurrently.

Mr. Benge also faces three years of probation when released.

Mr. Rea said a 20-year prison term in a case like this one is significant.

Ms. Alessi, whose age in court documents is listed as 56 or 58, pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud and two counts of attempted fraud. A judge earlier last month allowed Ms. Alessi to serve her probation in Virginia, where she will obtain medical treatment, according to court officials. The judge also ordered her to pay almost $113,500 in restitution.

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