Blazing File Folders

Was the state Department of Insurance out of line when it staged an armed raid on office workers in Chandler?

Both Cornelius of the AG's Office and Cooper of DOI say that's not so.
But Figueroa insists that's what he was told by Norwood, the DOI investigator who went along on the raid. Norwood is on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment.

Figueroa never saw any reports or paperwork on the earlier arrest; he took Norwood's word for it, he says.

The arrest Norwood was apparently referring to dates back to 1992, when Summerville was accused of waving a gun at an ex-boyfriend in a domestic dispute. Summerville told a probation officer at the time that she took her ex's gun and dropped it, causing it to accidentally discharge.

She later pleaded no contest to endangerment, a misdemeanor which is considered "non-dangerous," and was released from her probation early.

For Figueroa, it just came down to a safety call, based on what he knew at the time.

"What's the difference between white-collar crime and any other crime? They can kill you just as dead as anybody else," he says. "I'd rather be justifying like I am right now going in with weapons drawn than going in with weapons holstered and having a dead officer on my hands."

But, as it turned out, Summerville wasn't even there when the warrant was served. The precautions the officers took for her were wasted on the four agency employees present at the time of the raid.

While Perschetti was in his office typing, Chris Werner, Maggie Pinckard and Shannon Zook were all standing together in an office off the lobby, reviewing a file. Then the door burst open. The officers pointed guns at them and began screaming orders.

"They came in like a swarm," Werner says. "They came in like it was a crack raid."

Pinckard says she immediately feared for her safety. "The only thing I could think of was, am I going to get out of here okay?"

As the employees were herded into the lobby of the office, the officers began asking where Maria Summerville was. They didn't know, and were separated for questioning by Norwood.

While the fraud investigators searched the office, Norwood and another investigator--a woman the employees couldn't name--questioned them.

They were eventually released by the officers. But, they say, they were allowed to leave only after Maggie Pinckard demanded to know if she was under arrest. She says that when she was told she wasn't, she began walking out and called to the others that they didn't have to stay, either.

Summerville and her attorney arrived soon after, and the search went on until about 4:30 p.m.

But the experience still lingers in the minds of Summerville's employees.
"I'm not ashamed to admit that I went home and cried that night," Werner says. "I'm a newlywed. I have a family to provide for. I just kept thinking, what if something had happened?"

Perschetti says he now feels like he's being watched. Pinckard reports being afraid even when she's at home. The other people in their building look at them strangely now, they say.

And every time someone comes to the door of the office now, everyone pauses, for just a moment, until they know who is there. When they come back from lunch, they call out to one another, just so there are no surprises.

"I just kept thinking, it's an office. It's a business," Werner says. "It's not a meth lab."

The raid on the Summerville agency is just the latest tangle in the long history of civil litigation between Summerville and a former employer.

The warrant that sparked the raid on Summerville's business came about with the help of a local heavy hitter, former U.S. attorney Melvin McDonald, who was hired by Farmers Insurance to help in its case against Summerville.

McDonald went to DOI and the AG's Office on behalf of Farmers Insurance in April. McDonald and another attorney from Farmers, according to court records, laid out their case against Summerville to Norwood.

Over the last few years, Farmers and Maria Summerville have been immersed in a dispute over collection work she did for the company, starting in 1994.

Summerville is mainly in the business of collecting debts owed to insurance companies, mostly by uninsured motorists. She generally gets 25 percent of what she collects.

In 1995, Summerville and Associates was fired by the insurer.
Farmers sued Summerville in 1996, claiming that she did not return the money from collection files to the company. Summerville countered that she only withheld funds from Farmers because she hadn't been paid by the company for her work.

In a deposition, Summerville said that when Farmers fired her, she purged all of the company's files from her computer. After that, many of the hard copies of her records were stolen from her office in a burglary, she said.

But earlier this year, the company found two former employees of Summerville's who testified that she still had collection files belonging to the company. McDonald presented the affidavits to Norwood, as well as other material from the civil case. Norwood later interviewed the two in person, and gathered information from other insurance companies about Summerville as well, according to court records. Then he got his warrant.

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