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Commonwealth v. Hyde

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Essex

December 21, 2015

James C. Hyde (and seven companion cases [1] )

Argued June 12, 2015.

Page 762

Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on April 4, 2008.

The cases were tried before Howard J. Whitehead, J.

Edward Foye ( David Meier with him) for James C. Hyde.

Sarah E. Dolven for Omar Castillo.

Argie K. Shapiro, Assistant Attorney General ( William R. Freeman, Special Assistant Attorney General, with her) for the Commonwealth.

Present: Cohen, Green, & Trainor, JJ.


[42 N.E.3d 1174] Cohen, J.

Following a multiyear inquiry by investigators from the insurance fraud bureau and the Lawrence police department, a grand jury indicted the defendants, James C. Hyde, Michael H. Kaplan, and Omar Castillo, for crimes arising from the submission of fraudulent automobile insurance claims.[2] The defendants later were tried together before a Superior Court jury. Hyde, an attorney at the law firm of Berger & Hyde, P.C., was convicted of two counts each of motor vehicle insurance fraud (see G. L. c. 266, § 111B), larceny over $250 (see G. L. c. 266, § 30), and attempted larceny over $250 (see G. L. c. 274, § 6). Kaplan, a chiropractor and owner of the Kaplan Chiropractic clinic, was convicted of three counts of motor vehicle insurance fraud, and two counts each of larceny over $250 and attempted larceny. Castillo, an employee of Kaplan Chiropractic, was convicted of one count each of motor vehicle insurance fraud and larceny over $250. Before us are the appeals of Hyde and Castillo.[3]

Hyde's convictions resulted from insurance claims submitted on behalf of clients purporting to have been injured in two staged automobile accidents -- one alleged to have occurred on October 1, 2002, and the other alleged to have occurred on December 20, 2002. Hyde's primary contention on appeal is that the Commonwealth [42 N.E.3d 1175] failed to establish at both the grand jury and petit jury stages of the case that he knew that these particular accidents were staged. On this ground, he maintains that both his pretrial motion to dismiss the indictments and his motion for required findings of not guilty at trial should have been allowed. In

Page 763

addition, Hyde argues that the indictments should have been dismissed for the additional reason that the integrity of the grand jury proceedings was impaired, and that he is entitled to a new trial as a result of the erroneous admission of prior bad act evidence.

Castillo's convictions resulted from his role in helping to stage the December 20 accident. Castillo argues that there was insufficient evidence that he knew that statements submitted to insurance companies with regard to that accident were false, and, therefore, his motion for required findings of not guilty should have been allowed. Castillo also argues that he is entitled to a new trial as a result of the erroneous admission of checks written to him by Berger & Hyde, P.C. For the following reasons, we affirm both defendants' convictions.


The jury could have found the following facts. In 2000, Leo Lopez began to work as an assistant and van driver at Kaplan Chiropractic. Shortly after starting the job, Lopez brought his mother to Kaplan Chiropractic for treatment of a work-related shoulder injury. When Kaplan gave him $100 in cash for bringing his mother in, Lopez learned that it was Kaplan's policy to pay his employees cash bonuses when they referred new patients to the clinic. Kaplan later told Lopez that he could make extra money by setting up motor vehicle accidents. Kaplan explained how to stage an accident by obtaining two cars (one to play the " at fault" role, and the other to play the " not at fault" role), recruiting a driver and passengers for each car, crashing the cars together, preparing accident reports, and bringing the accident participants first to a chiropractor and then to an attorney.

On December 5, 2000, Lopez staged his first accident. He drove his own car, which he was eager to replace, and arranged for a woman to hit it with her minivan. The next day, he went to Kaplan for treatment. At Kaplan's recommendation, Lopez promptly went to see Hyde at his law firm. At that meeting, Hyde explained that Lopez would need to accumulate $2,000 in medical bills to have a case,[4] and gave him an envelope containing a check for $200 for bringing the matter to the firm. Hyde also promised to " take care of [him]" if he referred more clients.

To build up his medical expenses, Lopez went to a few actual physical therapy sessions at Kaplan Chiropractic, and then pre-

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tended to receive further treatment. Lopez also went back to Hyde's office to fill out a personal injury protection form to obtain no-fault benefits for alleged lost wages,[5] even though he had not stopped working. Hyde eventually settled Lopez's case for $5,300, from which Hyde took $1,325.

Lopez testified in some detail about the period between December, 2000, through September, 2002. At first, he staged " live" two-car collisions, where police and other emergency responders would be called to the scene. However, by mid-2001, he had transitioned to staging " paper" [42 N.E.3d 1176] accidents. In those instances, he would obtain and damage two cars, recruit people willing to pose as the occupants, and fill out paperwork as if a real accident had occurred. The day after each purported accident, the persons pretending to be the injured occupants would be taken to one of two chiropractors and one of two lawyers, based on whether they were the designated occupants of the " at fault" vehicle or the " not at fault" vehicle. The chiropractor was either Kaplan or another chiropractor who practiced at Haverhill Family Chiropractic, and the lawyer was either Hyde or another lawyer who practiced at a different firm.[6]

Castillo, another van driver for Kaplan, also was engaged in the scheme. He staged accidents, brought the participants to Kaplan for treatment, and obtained payments from Kaplan in return. Castillo, too, was introduced to Hyde, and received referral fees from Hyde when he brought Hyde new clients.

Lopez's reputation grew to the point where members of the community would approach him to volunteer their participation. He enlisted the help of a friend, Christopher Ortega, and paid him a share of the referral fees. The two would recruit participants, coach them on their roles in the fictitious accidents, and tell them how to respond to medical, legal, and insurance professionals. From December, 2000, through September, 2002, Lopez referred participants in more than twenty staged accidents to Kaplan Chiropractic or Haverhill Family Chiropractic, and to Hyde or the other lawyer involved in these ruses. Both Kaplan and Hyde would pay Lopez for each individual whom he referred to their respective practices.

As Lopez became friendly with Hyde, the two had a number of private conversations where Hyde ...

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