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03/31/94 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. JOHNNIE BUFFMAN

March 31, 1994

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JOHNNIE BUFFMAN, DOROTHY MURPHY, AND IRIS COLAR, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE FRED G. SURIA, JR. JUDGE PRESIDING.

Hoffman, Johnson, Theis

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hoffman

JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendants, Johnnie Buffman, Dorothy Murphy, and Iris Colar, were charged along with sixteen co-defendants with, inter alia, multiple counts of insurance fraud (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 73, par. 1101), and conspiracy to commit theft (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, pars. 8-2, 16-1), arising from an elaborate automobile insurance scam involving Country Companies Insurance Company and Allstate Insurance Company. In a consolidated bench trial, the court found all three defendants guilty of conspiracy and also found Buffman guilty of one count of insurance fraud, and found Murphy and Colar guilty of three counts of insurance fraud. On appeal, we addressed: (1) whether a proof of loss statement submitted by Buffman to Country Companies was hearsay and thus improperly admitted, and (2) whether the State failed to prove all three defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

John Bauer, a Country Companies claims adjuster, testified that in July of 1987 he received a call reporting a collision between a 1981 Volvo and a 1987 Cadillac. The caller stated that Sam Kapleton, a co-defendant, had been driving the Volvo and that Iris Colar and DorothyMurphy were passengers. Bauer testified that the Volvo was covered under a "binder" policy issued on June 26, 1987, to Johnnie Buffman. Bauer also received injury claims from passengers supposedly in the Cadillac, which was reportedly owned and driven by another co-defendant, Connie Taylor.

In the course of a routine investigation of the claim, Bauer attempted to contact Buffman and Kapleton. Although a woman identifying herself as Buffman eventually returned Bauer's call, it was later learned that the caller was not Buffman but was the wife of a co-conspirator, Terry Brooks. Bauer also learned that the Cadillac which supposedly had belonged to Taylor in fact had been reported as stolen from a rental car company. Bauer spoke with Taylor and her alleged passengers and testified that when he cross-referenced the telephone numbers they gave him, he discovered that they were registered to an address in the 3300 block of West Crystal Street in Chicago.

Bauer testified that on July 24, 1987, a woman claiming to be Murphy presented medical documentation and signed a medical authorization form regarding her injuries from the collision. Although one of the bills bore the name and telephone number of "Westgate Medical Center", Bauer discovered that the number did not belong to a medical facility, but to a party at the 3300 West Crystal Street address. Bauer was unable to determine that any Westgate center existed.

Country Companies retained an independent adjusting firm, Adjus Tech Investigation Services, to conduct an investigation into the claim. Adjus Tech investigator Timothy Thomas testified that in July or August of 1987 he interviewed Kapleton, Murphy, and Colar independently. Each claimed to have been involved in the accident and furnished details about it. Kapleton stated that he had been driving Johnnie Buffman's car and that Colar and Murphy were his passengers. Kapleton also described where each of these individuals was supposedly seated in the vehicle during the accident. Both Murphy and Colar indicated that they were riding with Kapleton, and Murphy described each of their respective positions in the car. Colar told Thomas that there had been injuries. Both Murphy and Colar showed Thomas their driver's licenses and provided their social security numbers.

The parties stipulated that on September 9, 1987, Buffman executed a "proof of loss" statement for the collision. The statement, which was admitted into evidence over objection, provided that the driver at the time of the collision was "Kapleton," and that his purpose was "pleasure." Bauer testified that Country Companieswould not issue a settlement check for a claim unless it had the proof of loss statement. He indicated that the statement would typically be prepared within the insurance company before the claimant signed it, and further testified that Buffman's statement was probably completed at the time she executed it although he could not be certain of this. Observing the document at trial, Bauer noted that it was complete except for the agency location, which he indicated would normally not be filled out. Bauer also noted that the document had not been notarized or witnessed.

Bauer testified that on September 16, 1987, Country Companies issued Buffman a check for over $4,091 for the claim. Country Companies also paid $300 to Enterprise Leasing Company to cover automobile rental. The parties stipulated that Buffman had endorsed and cashed the settlement check.

The central figures in the conspiracy, Mozell Brown and Terry Brooks, testified that they and another defendant, Johnnie Little, earned a living in 1987 by setting up phoney accidents and collecting insurance proceeds. Brooks testified that he orchestrated three or four accidents per week and solicited various other individuals to participate in each one. Brooks maintained detailed records of each staged collision.

Brown testified that in June or July of 1987, Kapleton inquired whether he "had anything going." Brown replied that he did and that Kapleton would simply have to go to the police station and report an accident and visit his physician the following morning. Brown told Kapleton that Brooks had obtained a 1981 Volvo from Buffman which Kapleton would be "driving," and that the car would collide with a 1987 maroon Cadillac.

Brown testified that about this same time, he and Brooks met with Murphy, whom Brown had known because of a close friendship between their sons. Brown asked Murphy to rent a car for his son in exchange for $300, indicating that $179 of this amount would go to cover the rental and that she could keep the balance. Brown denied ever telling Murphy that they planned to use the car in a fake accident. After Murphy agreed to rent the car, she went to O'Hare Airport with Brown and Brooks and rented maroon 1987 Cadillac. She then turned the car over to Brooks who drove it away.

The following evening Brown and Brooks returned to Murphy's home and this time spoke with Colar, Murphy's roommate. Brown testified that after some persuading, Brooks convinced Colar to rent a car, later shown either to be a Cadillac or a Lincoln, in exchange for $300. Brown ...


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