Fake Certificate Provided to Gain Right to Work Defrauded General Contractor

Forging a Certificate of Insurance is a Crime

Every construction contract requires that subcontractors provide certificates of insurance as a condition of working on the construction project. Many subcontractors do not have liability insurance that would fulfill the requirements of a general contractor and owner of a major construction project. To get the work some are tempted to provide fake evidence of insurance.

In Terrence Roberts v. The State of Texas, NO. 03-18-00224-CR, Texas Court of Appeals, Third District, at Austin (October 11, 2019) a jury convicted Terrence Roberts of the class A misdemeanor offense of forgery for providing fake evidence of insurance. The trial court sentenced him to 365 days’ confinement and a $3,000 fine but suspended imposition of sentence and placed him on community supervision for twelve months. Roberts appealed.

FACTS

The State’s case against Roberts arose from an investigation by the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) concerning a claim made by Scott Raper, who was the president of Central Insurance Agency (CIA). Raper reported to TDI that he had been presented with a copy of a Certificate of Liability Insurance (the Certificate) that purported to have been issued by CIA. Although it was a “proper certificate form,” Raper testified that he did not authorize it, and it had been forged.

Following the TDI investigation, the State charged Roberts alleging that Roberts forged the signature of Scott Raper and altered the Certificate showing policy effective and policy expiration dates that were listed on the Certificate without the authorization of CIA.

A copy of the Certificate was admitted as an exhibit at the jury trial. Raper testified that CIA did not issue the Certificate; that Raper did not sign it or authorize the use of his stamped signature; and that Roberts previously had “[m]ultiple policies over several years” with CIA but that the last insurance that CIA had provided to him was “over ten years prior.”

During his testimony at trial, Raper compared and pointed out similarities and discrepancies in a 2001 form and the current form. Among the similarities, both included the same policy amounts and listed “Association Casualty Insurance” as an insurer. Raper testified that CIA had not “represented American Casualty for a good 10 to 15 years.”

The jury heard evidence that Roberts was an electrician who was working as a subcontractor for Rio Resources on a project in Midland, Texas, when Yates asked him and the other subcontractor to provide proof of insurance to comply with bank financing requirements; that Yates routinely transported documents from the job site in Midland to the office in a folder as the standard practice; and that Roberts had given documents to Yates that Yates transported to the office.

After the policy period in the Certificate expired, Goodman contacted CIA to ask them to forward an updated certificate. CIA did not have a policy that matched the policy number reflected on the Certificate. Goodman then provided a copy of the Certificate to CIA. After receiving the copy, Raper contacted the TDI to report the forged Certificate.

The evidence was undisputed that no claims were filed on the purported insurance policy reflected in the Certificate and that Roberts subsequently provided insurance from another company for the project, but that he worked on the project and received compensation during the time period that the Certificate was on file with Rio Resources and he did not have other insurance.

The jury found Roberts guilty of the class A misdemeanor offense of forgery.

ANALYSIS

Sufficiency of Evidence to Support Forgery Conviction

A person commits the offense of forgery “if he forges a writing with intent to defraud or harm another.” See Tex. Penal Code § 32.21(b).

To prove the requisite intent to harm or defraud another in a forgery case, the trier of fact must be able to reasonably infer that Roberts knew the instrument was forged beyond a reasonable doubt.

Roberts conceded that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that Raper’s signature on the Certificate was not authorized but argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove who placed it on the document and that there was no evidence that the policy effective and expiration dates on the Certificate had been altered.

The jury reasonably could have credited the evidence submitted by the prosecution. The jury also had the two forms to compare—the 2001 certificate that showed Roberts’s previous insurance coverage with CIA and his address and the Certificate that contained his current phone numbers in addition to his address.

The evidence supported the conclusion that Roberts had a motive for providing the Certificate to Rio Resources. The jury also could have found significant the evidence of Roberts’s responses and conduct when asked about the Certificate. Although Roberts denied that he had provided the Certificate to Rio Resources during his testimony at trial, the jury was free to disbelieve him.

Although not direct evidence of forgery, viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence presented to the jury constituted circumstantial evidence from which a rational jury could draw reasonable inferences that Roberts forged Raper’s signature and altered the policy effective and expiration dates on the Certificate with the intent to defraud or harm. Evidence was sufficient to prove that defendant forged the Certificate with intent to defraud or harm another since there was no plausible legitimate explanation for Roberts’s possession and presentment of the Certificate.

The combined and cumulative force of all the evidence at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to the jury’s conviction, was sufficient to allow a rational jury to find the elements of forgery as pleaded in the information beyond a reasonable doubt.

ZALMA OPINION

Presenting a Certificate of Insurance to a general contractor that reported insurance with an insurer that the broker had ceased representing at least ten years before was obviously a fraudulent document. Although there were no claims needing the fake insurance to respond the “no harm/no foul” defense does not change the criminal conduct. Mr. Roberts should be happy that the court did not require he serve time in jail.


© 2019 – Barry Zalma

This article, and all of the blog posts on this site, digest and summarize cases published by courts of the various states and the United States.  The court decisions have been modified from the actual language of the court decisions, were condensed for ease of reading, and convey the opinions of the author regarding each case.

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant  specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 50 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and zalma@zalma.com.

Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award.

Over the last 51 years Barry Zalma has dedicated his life to insurance, insurance claims and the need to defeat insurance fraud. He has created the following library of books and other materials to make it possible for insurers and their claims staff to become insurance claims professionals.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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