Doctor admits to fraud of insurer
By CHRIS TISCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001
CLEARWATER -- A Clearwater doctor pleaded guilty on Wednesday to defrauding his insurance company of more than $40,000 by making false claims on his car and a piece of medical equipment.
Dr. Larry Canton, 42, faced charges of insurance fraud and grand theft. A judge withheld adjudication after he pleaded guilty to the charges Wednesday, then sentenced Canton to two years' probation.
Canton also was ordered to pay $41,775 in restitution to State Farm Insurance, said James Trehy, an investigator with the Florida Department of Insurance.
Canton could not be reached for comment Wednesday. No one answered the phone at his office, though his attorney, Jay Hebert, said he will continue practicing medicine in the area.
"Dr. Canton has no comment about the current situation. However, he is pleased that there is closure to the matter and that he is looking forward to the future," Hebert said.
"He's an extremely popular doctor," Hebert added.
Canton initially was arrested June 29. Investigators said he reported his 1988 BMW stolen from a mall in Tampa, then collected a $15,000 check from State Farm. Investigators determined that Canton had called a towing company under the name Larry Gant and had had the car towed to a dealership, arrest affidavits state.
Canton never claimed the car from the dealership, affidavits state.
After the June arrest, investigators looked into another insurance fraud claim reported by an anonymous caller. The caller said Canton had damaged a bone density machine to collect insurance money.
Investigators learned that Canton had complained that exams from the bone density machine were not pulling in enough money. In fact, some employees said they had never seen the machine used.
One employee said Canton at one time asked if the machine could be sold or used to generate more revenue. The employee said Canton's assistant also asked him if he could disable the machine beyond repair, as it was insured. The employee refused.
Employees reported the machine then disappeared from the office for about two weeks, then was back. But the machine did not work.
Canton's office called State Farm and said the machine had been damaged by a voltage surge from a lightning strike. State Farm covered the damage. Then Canton and his assistant told an employee to produce fictitious reports that omitted patient information but included charge amounts. The employee, afraid of losing his job, did as asked, investigators said.
State Farm reimbursed Canton $26,600 while the machine was broken, money that was supposed to make up for lost revenue. But the payments were based on phantom patient exams, investigators said.
Investigators with a search warrant seized a laptop computer at Canton's office, 13501 Icot Blvd., Suite 108, and found that the bone density machine had not been used from April 1997 to April 1999.
The investigation was wrapping up Tuesday when Canton turned himself in to the Pinellas County Jail.
"He was arrested yesterday and he pleaded today," said Trehy, the insurance investigator. "Twenty-eight years as a cop and I've never seen that."
Canton still has a license to practice medicine, but Trehy said state regulators have been in touch with him about the criminal case.
Though there is no record of a complaint against Canton, criminal charges typically trigger an inquiry, said April Crowley, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health.
An inquiry begins if someone -- usually a law enforcement investigator or patient -- makes a complaint. An inquiry can result in punishment of fines, probation, suspension or even revocation of a license.
Though there is no record of an ongoing inquiry, Crowley said it's possible one has been launched.
Hebert said he was not aware of an inquiry.
"He hopes to continue to practice medicine here in Pinellas County," Hebert said.
- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks