September 29, 2011 | 7:00am
As state legislators consider tougher regulations for companies that refer car accident victims to chiropractors and lawyers, one powerful Broward referral service has a family member gunning for a seat in Tallahassee.
State House candidate Merick Lewin is a little-known Republican seeking to represent District 97 in western Broward County. Lewin lives in Davie with his uncle, Harley Lewin, who is co-owner of the 1-800-411-PAIN Referral Service
. Robert Cash Lewin, founder and fellow owner of 411-PAIN, is Harley Lewin's twin brother.
In campaign documents filed with the secretary of state's office, Merick Lewin's address is the same as the business address for 411-Cars, an offshoot of 411-PAIN, also run by Harley and Robert Lewin, that provides marketing for car dealers. But Merick says he has "no relationship" to the family business and would abstain from voting on legislation that impacts 411-PAIN.
"I would never vote on anything that would give a direct financial incentive to my family members," he says.
Merick has his own marketing company, What's Next Marketing, based in Tallahassee. He says he's temporarily staying with his uncle in Davie while he looks for a house. He does not work for Harley Lewin, and his decision to seek political office "is my own."
"This is the United States of America, and people should be allowed to stand on their own two feet and not be automatically judged because of their familial relationships," he says.
The 411-PAIN network includes at least 100 lawyers and 36 medical clinics in Florida -- a major force in the personal injury world. Clinics pay an undisclosed fee to join the network and cover advertising costs; lawyers do not pay any fee, according to Robert Lewin.
The company has spent more than $13 million on marketing in the past dozen years. Last year, two former patients filed a class-action lawsuit accusing 411-PAIN of false advertising, deceptive trade practices, and a civil conspiracy. The company has denied the allegations. (Read New Times'
in-depth coverage of the case here
More recently, 411-PAIN came under scrutiny by the Florida Bar for its commercials
, some of which feature actors dressed as police officers and tempt viewers with promises of up to $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) insurance benefits.
In March, state Rep. Rick Kriseman (D-St. Petersburg) proposed legislation
that would force members of networks such as 411-PAIN to disclose any financial incentives to refer car-accident victims to one another. The bill died in committee, but Kriseman plans to try again next session.
If Merick Lewin is elected, the candidate says voting on such a measure would "be a conflict of interest."