Insurance Scams Lead to Arrests of Cops
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO March 2, 2007 A faked fire has become a black eye for the legal community in Sullivan County.
The number of arrests is up to four, including two police officers with more arrests pending possibly including yet another officer.
When Ed Kowalik Jr’s 2005 Dodge Ram 2500 pickup went up in flames on Lt. Brender Highway in Ferndale last October, he called his insurance company.
But State Police have revealed State Farm Insurance Agency’s investigation eliminated all possible accidental causes of the fire.
They determined the pickup was lit intentionally, prompting the arrest of Kowalik, a police officer since 2002 with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in Grahamsville, on charges of felony arson in the third degree and insurance fraud in the third degree, also a felony.
According to DEP spokesman Ian Michaels, the department has been cooperating with the investigation and suspended Kowalik, 37, without pay for 30 days while the department pursues additional disciplinary action.
Kowalik was arraigned in Town of Fallsburg Court and committed to Sullivan County Jail pending an appearance.
District Attorney Steve Lungen said the investigation revealed William Kloss III was operating Kowalik’s truck at the time of the fire.
Kloss has since admitted to setting the fire and was charged with felony arson in the fourth degree.
Lungen said talks with Kloss corroborated other fraudulent insurance claims the police and DA’s office had unveiled.
Kloss is now accused of staging an accident in 2004, driving a 1995 Toyota pickup truck owned by Michael Brooks, 51, of Jeffersonville, into a tree.
Brooks received payment from his insurance company for the accident, and he was arrested this week for insurance fraud in the third degree. Arraigned in Town of Liberty Court, Brooks was released pending a future court appearance.
Kloss was also allegedly at the wheel of a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee involved in a staged accident in January last year.
The Jeep was owned by Amanda Cox of Livingston Manor a 31⁄2-year veteran of the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office who just recently earned a promotion to corporal.
The 25-year-old collected funds from her insurance company for the incident, and she was arrested this week by both State Police and the Sheriff’s Office on charges of insurance fraud in the third degree.
Arraigned in Town of Liberty Court, she posted bail and is scheduled to reappear in the same court.
She’s been suspended without pay from the Sheriff’s Office in accordance with civil service law which stipulates a 30-day suspension without pay is allowable.
If the court proceedings are not completed within 30 days, Cox will remain suspended but will regain her paycheck.
Undersheriff Eric Chaboty called the charges against Cox “shocking.”
His boss, Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff, expressed a deep disappointment in his corporal.
“My office takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and investigates them thoroughly” Schiff said. “The results of this investigation were totally unexpected.”
He called Cox a “good deputy” but was unable to comment further because of the ongoing investigation.
Schiff said his own office now has an Internal Affairs Bureau to handle claims of crime within the police force a change he made last fall to continue his modernization of the Sheriff’s Office.
Lungen said his investigation is continuing and more arrests are expected.
Although he did not release the name of the Fallsburg officer who is a subject of the investigation, Lungen confirmed rumors that Mike Foster of the Fallsburg Police Department has resigned his post as sergeant and officer since being confronted with information related to the fraud case.
Lungen said he’s proud of law enforcement in Sullivan County for bringing to light these crimes rather than sweeping them under the rug.
“Clearly, it’s embarrassing and disheartening from my seat as district attorney to have to prosecute police officers,” he noted.
But this is a case where police officers are faced with looking into the crimes of their colleagues a challenge few professionals face.
“Yet our law enforcement and police officers are willing to weed out its own,” Lungen noted. “Yes, you could say it’s a black eye but the bright light to me is their willingness to investigate.”
Lungen said the officers in questions were well-liked and good police officers who got themselves into financial trouble.
Although his office is still awaiting some paperwork from the various insurance companies making it impossible to put exact numbers on how much money was collected he said each act of fraud seems to have been committed because the vehicle owner was unable to keep up with financial commitments.
In one case, Lungen said the vehicle had mechanical problems which became a financial burden on the owner. In the others, the owners were unable to afford the vehicles.
Lungen said the allegations show integrity and credibility in the law enforcement organizations who have brought them to light.
Anyone with more information on fraudulent insurance claims is asked to call the New York State Police at 292-6600.