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Top 5 White Collar Villains: David Marks and Relatives Go From Palm Reading to Insurance Fraud

By Chris Parker in Lists, fraud
Friday, August 20, 2010 at 9:00 am
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Every two-bit con dreams of making an 8-bit score. Unfortunately for David Marks and has family, insurance companies aren't impressed with crystal balls (or they'd have their own), and his attempts to move from fortune-telling into fortune-making only landed him a spot atop this week's Top 5 White Collar Villains...

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5. Mario Batali

Several employees of restauranteur Mario Batali have accused the one-time star of Molto Mario and Iron Chef America of having sticky fingers. According to a lawsuit filed by a former server and a former bartender at Los Angeles' Pizzeria Mozza, Batali and his partner Joe Bastianich funnel a portion of every tip paid by credit card into their own pockets under the auspices of something called the "Wine Program."

They said the same thing occurs at his neighboring upscale restaurant, Osteria Mozza. They also accused him of not honoring federally mandated breaks or paying them in a timely fashion after being let go. (Could their complaints about the "Wine Program" have something to do with sour grapes?)

Last month two employees of Batali's Manhattan restaurant, Babbo Ristorante Enoteca, accused Batali of running the same scam.

As a chef that's been on television extensively, written several books, marketed his own cooking utensils, and reportedly owns homes in New York and Michigan, you wonder, doesn't he have enough dough that he doesn't need to dip into the underpaid wait staff's main means of sustenance?

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4. Randy Pepper

According to the 2010 Air Transport Industry Baggage Report, 25 million bags go missing each year, of which half were lost between transfers, 16% weren't loaded on flights, and 13% disappeared through passenger bag switching, poor ticketing and failed security. Which still leaves a sizeable percentage for people like 50-year old Randy Pepper, a former Transportation Security Administration supervisor at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, who was caught removing $20,000 worth of items from checked luggage. (The lesson here: Keep your valuables in your carry-on, and take your chances with your fellow passengers.)

He was caught by a fellow TSA employee in July of last year, and review of surveillance video confirmed the thefts. He had been doing it for at least a year, so the surveillance obviously wasn't all that good. Peppers, who confessed to pawning most of the booty, will face up to 10 years in prison and $250,000, though he is expected to face a guideline range of six months to a year.

Just another reason why air travel's only slightly more enjoyable than being shot out of a cannon.

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3. Michael Forde

With the way we treat corrupt business leaders, it's only surprising more don't do it (that we know of). Take Michael Forde, who pleaded guilty last week to federal racketeering and bribery as the boss of New York's carpenter union.

Forde -- who tested positive for cocaine and marijuana when he was busted last August (just living La Vida Loca!) -- pleaded guilty to selling out his union members to contractors who wanted to hire illegal aliens and other non-union labor. The bribery scheme goes back as far as 1994. The 56-year-old  Forde cut a deal after lower level union officials sold him out. He was among 10 of the union's leaders that were indicted last year.

Forde beat similar raps in 2004 and 2008, but is now looking at 9 to 11 years and was slapped with a $100,000 fine. Of course, he's still going to collect an annual pension of about $128,000. The union has promised to fight it, but federal law makes it difficult to stop pension payments, even to people convicted of felonies. In the right job, crime doesn't just pay, it pays well, even after you're caught.

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2. Emilio Lopez and Orlando Estevez

Like immortal Saturday Night Live character Hans and Franz, Emilio Lopez and Orlando Estevez are here to pump you up. But while most of us may be skeptical of the benefits of penis pumping devices, Medicare is a less discerning. A lot less. They even paid for four devices for the same person -- only realizing after the fact that the patient was a woman. (That'd require an awful lot of pumping.)

The 46-year old Lopez, president of Charlie RX, and 25-year old Estevez, president of Happy Trips, were indicted in February, and finally apprehended last week. They're accused of stealing Medicare patients' numbers and doctors' identifications to submit almost $2 million in bogus claims between October and February. The erection systems -- for which the Hialeah, Florida men charged Medicare $395 apiece -- made up only around $60,000 of their phony claims.

Little surprise this happened in Miami-Dade, which is considered the nation's Medicare fraud capital with an estimated $3.5-$4.5 billion in fraudulent claims over the past decade. Feeling better about that health care bill already, aren't you?

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1. The Marks Family

It's one thing to take advantage of the gullible looking for some reassurance about their future. You can nickel and dime them until the buffalo return. But insurance companies aren't rubes, and they eventually caught on to David Marks and his relatives' attempts to cash in on insurance policies secured with fraudulent physicals.

Steven and Mitchell Marks are the sons of Celia Marks, who began reading palms and tarot cards in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area more than 50 years ago. She passed the "gift" along to her sons and grandchildren, who run their own fortune-telling businesses throughout the region, claiming to be descended from the legendary psychic Roma Gypsies.

It's apparently not genetic since her son Mitchell's ex-wife runs one with their son David. Indeed, the pair were convicted five years ago of running a common psychic "negative energy" scam -- where they convince people that their money is preventing good things from happening and offer to take it off their hands -- to the tune of over $132,000. (The victims are the same people that fall prey to Wallet Inspectors and roving sidewalk breast cancer exams.)

The 36-year old David Marks was also involved in the latest indictment, along with his 58-year old father, Mitchell Marks, his dad's girlfriend, 57-year old Laura Marks (who'd been married to another man named Marks!), his 61-year old uncle Steven Marks, his brother Danny Marks, and a 73-year old woman, Sarah Williams, whose connection to the clan is unknown.

The scheme was to take out policies on older, sickly members of the family by using imposters for the exams, lying on applications and claiming false family connections. It was accomplished, naturally, with a conspirator who was a life insurance agent. In one case, an exam was given to an impostor pretending to be Dora McMillen at the same time the real McMillen was being treated for congestive heart failure.

They took out more than 80 bogus policies worth more than $16 million and had collected $3.5 million on them.

Their defense? Steven, Mitchell and Laura say they may be able to read palms but little else, claiming to have no more than a second grade education and to be functionally illiterate.

They may be dumb, but they're not stupid. They need to lock up the whole grifting family before someone shows up and tries to turn them into a reality television vehicle.

Read last Friday's Top 5 White Collar Villains:
Mark Hurd Lies, Cheats and Scores $30 Million Severance.

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