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Canadian pleads guilty in liability policy scam


NEW YORK--A Canadian man has pleaded guilty to bilking dozens of commercial policyholders of $8.5 million by issuing bogus liability policies in the names of Lloyd's of London underwriters and other insurers.

Ian Stuart, who operated purported surplus lines brokerages in New York and suburban Toronto, pleaded guilty to a single wire fraud charge Monday in U.S. District Court in New York.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and has agreed to forfeit the $8.5 million generated in the scam, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. He is scheduled to be sentenced before U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff on Sept. 17.

Mr. Stuart--who also used the aliases Ian Stuart-Smith, John Harris and John Harrington--ran several purported brokerage firms without a New York license, including Surplus Lines Inc. and Heritage Inc., both New York corporations, and Rupertsland Insurance Intermediaries Ltd. of Ontario, according to prosecutors.

Between 2000 and 2004, Mr. Stuart defrauded dozens of mostly construction company and restaurant policyholders and their retail insurance brokers by falsely claiming to be an authorized representative of various licensed insurers, prosecution court filings say. Along with Lloyd's underwriters, insurers that Mr. Stuart claimed to represent included Great American Insurance Co.; Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s Mount Vernon Fire Insurance Co.; the Indian Harbor Insurance Co. unit of XL Capital Ltd.; Argonaut Group's Colony Insurance Co.; Travelers Indemnity Co.; Houston Casualty Co.; and the Essex Insurance Co. unit of Markel Corp.

Mr. Stuart issued fake binding documents and policies in the insurers' names and collected premiums from agents and premium finance companies in New York, California, Texas and other states, prosecutors charged.

To conceal the scheme and keep it going, Mr. Stuart also used some of the premiums he collected to pay for the defense--and, in some cases, settlement--of certain claims, prosecutors say.

Mr. Stuart, a 56-year-old Ontario resident, was originally indicted in 2004 on 20 mail and wire fraud counts. He was arrested in Ontario in May 2006 and has remained in custody since his extradition to the United States.