1. The 45-year-old homeless man found himself in a dingy, unfamiliar garage, with his left arm laid out across
a jagged slab of concrete.
Minutes before, he had been standing on a corner outside a West Side shelter when two men drove up and
asked if he wanted to make some easy money by posing as the victim in a car wreck staged for a phony
The deal was the injury would have to be real to ensure a big settlement. One of the men who had picked
him up held out a jacket and told him to put it over his head.
The homeless man shook his head. "I said, `I can take it.'
"No, you need it," he was told.
So the man covered his head. An instant later the flat end of a homemade ax came down on his left
forearm, about three inches above his wrist, snapping the ulna and the radius.
"The next thing I know I was in shock for a minute," said the man, who told police he was promised $3,500
of any insurance settlement.
The man, who asked that his name not be published, was just one of many homeless men--drifting from
shelter to shelter, addicted to alcohol and drugs and desperate for any kind of opportunity--whom police say
were preyed upon for more than a year by a band of con artists working with truck drivers.
Police arrested Michael Garner, 39, Kendrick Moore, 53, and four others last week and charged them with a
range of crimes in connection with the battering of six homeless people to commit insurance fraud. Since
the arrests, two other victims, including the 45-year-old man, have come forward and police suspect the
brutal scam was carried out several more times.
Police caught on to the scam in April, robbery Detective Michael Cummins said, when one of the homeless
men had his arm crushed so severely that he could not go through with the staged accident. He had to be
hospitalized and afterward went to police because he feared retribution for not going through with the scam.
While the ringleaders allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance companies, the
homeless men never received more than a few thousand dollars. In many cases they received just a few
dollars and small amounts of drugs or a case of beer, police said.
Garner, whom police called the ringleader, was charged with six counts of aggravated battery for wielding
"I wince every time I hear it," said Cummins, who worked the case with his partner, Ken Bigg. Technically,
the injured homeless people are not victims because they participated in crimes. But authorities decided to
treat them as witnesses because they were so vulnerable and, in the end, were swindled out of promised
"These guys have nothing to live for but the hope that their payday's coming," Cummins said.
The man interviewed by the Tribune came forward to police after learning of the arrests of Garner and
Moore. Garner posted $30,000 bail, but Moore remains in jail.
Taking `an arm shot'
It was Valentine's Day when two of the suspects pulled up to the curb outside Franciscan House, a
homeless shelter in the 2700 block of West Harrison Street. The men identified themselves as "Kenny and
Mike" and called the 45-year-old man over to their car.
2. "Kenny asked me if I wanted to make some money," the man said. "I said I did. And then he said, `I need
somebody to take an arm shot and somebody to take a leg shot."
The man said he asked what exactly they meant by a "shot," and was told that would be explained after a
second person was recruited to be injured.
Police said the scheme always involved staged wrecks with two victims, to increase the settlements, some
of which exceeded $100,000. The key, Cummins said, was that commercial truck drivers were in on the
scam because their employers were sure to have insurance.
The man said he would "take the arm shot," and once a second homeless man, named James, agreed to
go along, the suspects said they planned to hit them in the arm and leg to cause realistic injuries.
After his arm was broken, the homeless man said he was handed some newspapers to wrap up his bloody,
crushed limb. He was helped back into the car, and then James was taken into the garage, the man said.
"I was sitting in the car and I heard a bump, and then a moan. Then another bump, and a yell," he said.
Police have not been able to locate James, Cummins said.
At Franciscan House, officials remember seeing men with casts on their arms or legs several months ago.
Director of operations Barry Steele said he has not encountered anyone who acknowledges being used in
the scam, but he's looking for them.
"I want to make sure that any of those people who were involved get medical care," Steele said. "They can
have lifelong injuries from that if they don't get the right care."
After their bones were smashed, it was night when the two men were driven to a street corner that had been
chosen as the accident site. The 45-year-old homeless man didn't remember the location.
"I could walk so I got out of the car and lay down. Then Kenny and Mike helped [the other man] out," he
said. "Then they called the truck and the truck came and drove up on the sidewalk."
People started to gather around the staged accident scene, he said, and 911 was called. Usually, the
drivers would say they had swerved to avoid hitting another car and then hit the victims, police said.
While James was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital, the man with the broken arm was taken to Stroger Hospital,
where he stayed for eight days and underwent surgery to put pins in his shattered arm.
After he was released, the man said "Kenny and Mike" began to string him along when he asked about the
money. They had him meet with a representative of the company that owned the truck, and then with an
insurance agent. They would occasionally give him a little money--$12 or $13. When he asked for more,
they would become combative and threatening, he said. But they always promised the insurance settlement
was on its way, and he'd get his $3,500.
Then came the news June 6 that Garner and Moore and several others had been arrested and charged in
six incidents just like his.
Two days later, the man went to the police.
The truck driver, Khaled M. Saleh, 31, of Justice, was charged late Friday with insurance fraud in the case.
Sitting in a break room at the community mental health center where he spends his days, the man leaned
his elbows on the sticky dark veneer of the table as he recounted his ordeal. As much as he had suffered,
3. his greatest sadness is about opportunities the money represented to him. He had hoped to find a place of
his own to live and perhaps reunite with an old girlfriend who lives on the South Side.
"Now, I feel like--I'm kind of hurt now," he said. "I had a lot of plans. I had a plan for what I was going to do
when I got that money."
The 45-year-old homeless man said he was outside Franciscan House one day while his arm was still in a
cast when another homeless man asked how his arm had been broken.
"I got hit by a truck," he told him.
The other man smiled, said he once had a broken arm, and said: "What did the truck say on the side?
Kenny and Mike's?"