Newsday by ROCCO PARASCANDOLA - March 12, 2009
The Queens man called "a crook" by a civil court judge suspicious of his injury claims against New York City Transit has been charged with insurance fraud and grand larceny - and authorities say he's wanted for a rape in Pennsylvania. Newsday on Monday reported on the unusual case involving Paul Hightower, the 37-year-old mortgage company worker who said that in 2006 he had to quit work because of debilitating injuries suffered when the driver of the Q-85 bus in Springfield Gardens turned so sharply that he was thrown from his seat and into the exit well of the bus. Hightower sued. But last month, with the case close to trial, Judge Duane Hart sharply rebuked Hightower in court. He declared a mistrial, recused himself and referred the case to the Queens district attorney's office. "What I am saying is, in this case, and I am telling Mr. Hightower on the record, I am recusing myself because I think you are a crook," Hart said. "It seems like you live on files, claims for accidents, real or imagined or set up." Yesterday, the DA accused Hightower of fraud.
Hightower after the incident received $17,000 in insurance money from New York City Transit, a sum that was based on lost wages DA Richard Brown says were dramatically overstated. Paul J. Fleuranges, vice president of corporate communications for New York City Transit, said, "Individuals who engage in the prosecution of fraudulent or exaggerated claims of personal injury need be aware of the potentially severe consequences of their conduct." As Hightower was being processed in Queens on the fraud charge, authorities learned there was a warrant out for his arrest in Harrisburg, Penn. Authorities there could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Brown says Hightower was charged in 2002 with raping a minor. Hightower was arraigned Tuesday night and ordered held without bail. He refused to waive extradition on the rape charge. Hart and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. firstname.lastname@example.org