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Five arraigned in alleged trial rigging scheme

Five people were arrested Thursday morning in connection with an alleged scheme to rig the outcome of a Suffolk Superior Court trial, the attorney general’s office announced.

David Forlizzi, 52, of West Peabody, Janet Vaccari, 51, of Peabody, Deana Pistone, 29, of Wakefield, Laura Battista, 63, of Revere,and William Penta, 49, of Salem, face charges in the case, the attorney general’s office said in a statement. Each faces a different set of charges, reflecting their alleged roles in the scheme.

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The charges against them include corruption of a witness, perjury, suborning perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy.

All five defendants were originally indicted in 2008 for insurance fraud and other charges stemming from an investigation into an alleged scheme that involved billing auto insurance companies for car accidents that never actually happened, according to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office. Vaccari, Pistone, Penta, and Battista pleaded guilty in that case.

When it was Forlizzi’s turn to be tried, in March, along with Fred Battista, who is Laura Battista’s stepson, the conspirators allegedly schemed to testify falsely so that the two men would be acquitted.

“The truthful testimony of witnesses under oath is critical for a successful trial and any attempt to suborn perjury and obstruct justice will be prosecuted,” Coakley said in a statement.

Before the indictments, Vaccari, Pistone, and Penta gave recorded statements that Forlizzi and Fred Battista, both of whom helped operate Collision Headquarters, Inc. in Winthrop, coordinated the fraud. Forlizzi and Fred Battista recruited people to have their undamaged cars damaged in order to collect the insurance money, prosecutors said. Such customers would receive $200 upfront and additional money from the insurers later.

In testimony during the March trial of Forlizzi and Fred Battista, Vaccari, Penta, and Laura Battista contradicted the recorded statements, investigators said. Instead, they testified that Forlizzi and Fred Battista did not arrange the fraud and were unaware of it, officials said.

“At trial, Vaccari and Penta both claimed that they could not remember the recorded statements that they made to [Insurance Fraud Bureau] investigators in which they implicated Forlizzi and / or Fred Battista,” according to court documents. “[I]n response to questions by the trial prosecutor about the fact that Laura Battista, Penta and Vaccari had pled guilty to conspiring with Forlizzi and/or Fred Battista, Laura Battista, Penta, and Vaccari testified that they did not realize that they has pled guilty to such charges.”

After evidence was presented in the case, the judge discharged the jury and recommended that an investigation be launched to determine whether perjury, subornation of perjury, and obstruction of justice occurred, Coakley’s office said.

“...somebody spoke to these witnesses. ... One witness disappears, and the other two do a complete about face, and then virtually have identical scenarios in their testimony. It has a stench to it; it requires investigation,” the trial judge said. “Whatever has happened in this case is a disgrace.”

An investigation also determined that before and during his trial, Forlizzi paid thousands of dollars to Vaccari, prosecutors said.

In turn, Vaccari allegedly sent the money out of state to keep Pistone, her daughter, hidden and keep her from having to testify against Forlizzi, authorities said. Pistone could not be located for the trial, Coakley’s office said.

All five defendants pleaded not guilty in Boston Municipal Court today to the trial rigging charges and are expected back in court on Aug. 29.

Colin A. Young can be reached at colin.young@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ColinAYoung.
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