Thursday, August 15, 2002

Wife disputes fraud charge

Says husband thought father was 9-11 victim

By Janice Morse,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Ajay Chawla, a West Chester Township man accused of making a false Sept. 11 insurance claim, had good reason to believe his father had perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center, his wife testified Wednesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court.

        Ruhi Oberoi, who said she has been married to Mr. Chawla for nine years, testified that her father-in-law, Om Parkash Chawla, had talked about his plans for a business meeting inside the Twin Towers Sept. 11. On Sept. 10, she said, she saw him leave West Chester in a friend's vehicle, bound for New York City.

        Ms. Oberoi said she and her husband made many phone calls to try to learn her father-in-law's whereabouts.

        Finally, she said, on Oct. 16, after insurance investigators visited their home, she and her husband learned Om Chawla was unharmed and had returned to India.

        On that date, she said her husband spoke by telephone with his sister in India and she heard him say: “What? He's alive? He's back in India and he didn't bother to call me back?”

        Ms. Oberoi also said her husband immediately took steps to terminate a claim he had made on his father's $100,000 life-insurance policy.

        Ms. Oberoi's testimony launched the defense side of what is believed to be Ohio's sole alleged case of Sept. 11-related insurance fraud.

        A jury could begin deliberations today if testimony, which is expected to include a teleconference with a witness in India, concludes.

        Assistant Prosecutor Lee Oldendick has argued that other evidence suggests Mr. Chawla knew his father was alive and terminated the insurance claim only after suspicions arose. Mr. Oldendick questioned the timing of certain events in the case and also questioned the likelihood of Om Chawla dropping out of sight for 35 days without anyone knowing where he was.

        Ajay Chawla, 37, was indicted earlier this year on three felonies and a misdemeanor: insurance fraud, attempted aggravated theft by deception, telecommunications fraud and falsifications.

        The charges carry possible total sentences of eight years if he's convicted.


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