SAN DIEGO (CBSLA.com) — A Southern California woman was scheduled to be arraigned Monday after she was arrested in Mexico for her role in a $1 million “large-scale” fraud scheme, authorities said.
Wanda Lee Ann Podgurski, 60, was arrested July 4 in Mexico by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Fugitive Task Force after being convicted of 29 felony counts related to an insurance fraud scam, according to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Prosecutors say Podgurski taunted law enforcement during the time she was on the run by establishing a Twitter account, following only District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and then tweeting, “Catch me if you can.”
Podgurski was scheduled to be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. in San Diego Superior Court on a charge of failing to appear while on bail.
She was sentenced in absentia on June 21 to over 20 years in state prison and was also ordered to pay more than $1 million in fines and restitution.
Podgurski claimed to be disabled after suffering a fall in her home and fraudulently collected more than $500,000 from seven different insurance companies and a government agency, according to prosecutors.
While working as a clerk for Amtrak, prosecutors say Podgurski held insurance policies with six insurance companies: Balboa, Reassure America, Prudential, Kanawha, Unum and MetLife. In 2006, she increased the coverage on several of those policies, and her premiums eventually rose to more than $60,000 per year.
Podgurski’s salary at Amtrak was about $44,000, prosecutors said.
Under the policies, if she were to become disabled, she would no longer have to pay the premiums and could start collecting disability insurance payments. Her monthly benefit from all six companies was potentially $40,000 per month, according to the D.A.’s office.
After Podgurski allegedly taunted the district attorney on Twitter, the social media information was turned over to C.A.T.C.H. (Computer and Technology Crime High-Tech Response Team).
“The defendant in this case was brazen in both the large-scale fraud she committed and the way she mocked the criminal justice system,” said Dumanis. “Law enforcement, and in particular the U.S. Marshals and Fugitive Task Force, did a great job tracking the defendant down and taking her into custody.”
During the time she was allegedly disabled, Podgurski took several vacations including a 16-day tour to China in 2008 with her boyfriend, the District Attorney’s Office said. She also allegedly travelled to Dominican Republic, New York, Seattle, Boston, Fort Lauderdale and took road trips to Key West, Eureka, the Berkshires and other destinations.
At the time Podgurski was charged, proscutors say she had received $664,555.15 in disability payments.
“This type of fraud undermines critical services and care for disabled Californians, and victimizes taxpayers,” said State Controller and Franchise Tax Board Chair John Chiang. “I’m proud that our state tax investigators helped to end this costly criminal scheme.”