Authorities in Santa Clara County, California, have dismantled an auto insurance fraud ring which allegedly attempted to cash in on over $200,000 in bogus insurance claims.
The California Department of Insurance and Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office recently revealed that 18 people were arrested over the past month – including brothers Angel Topete, 36, and Joshua Topete, 34, who both supposedly led the scheme – in connection with 18 “staged collisions” reported over a three-year stretch.
One of the defendants being charged in the case, 31-year-old Gerardo Ivan Espinosa Martinez, was already being prosecuted in a separate fraud case involving another 15 allegedly staged collisions, The Mercury News
“This large ring of family and friends allegedly conspired to defraud insurers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” state insurance commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement. “The cost of insurance fraud is shouldered by consumers who pay higher premiums when insurers pass along their losses. Working with our taskforce partners is critical in combating the multi-billion dollar problem of insurance fraud.”
In 2015, investigators with the Silicon Valley Automobile Insurance Fraud Task Force opened a case and eventually ascertained that the Topete brothers instigated a scheme wherein their family, friends, and other associates filed falsified claims with six different insurers “for collisions that were either staged or never occurred at all,” authorities said.
The defendants allegedly took up new policies under multiple names. They later intentionally crashed their cars into each other. Authorities said that some of the cars involved were salvaged vehicles.
Officials said that the fraudulent claims they filed netted them a total of $210,000.
In a news release, the District Attorney’s Office said that the staged collisions were “often reported as caused by a distracted river striking parked vehicles,” and were recorded between 2012 and 2015.
Prosecutors said that the highest single claim the fraudsters made was for $37,723. Two auto body shops in San Jose – Espinosa Body Shop and Auto Parts USA – were implicated.
Investigators with Farmers
Insurance found that damage on one of the cars involved did not match its corresponding claim, which led to the opening of the fraud case.
The Mercury News
reported that authorities are still seeking four more suspects connected with the fraud scheme.
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