Indictments Continue in Investigation of Phony Auto Claims

September 4, 2003

New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey announced that a Union County man and his girlfriend have been charged by the Division of Criminal Justice – Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor with orchestrating staged accidents in Essex and Union Counties in order to obtain thousands of dollars in insurance claim monies.

According to Vaughn McKoy, Director, Division of Criminal Justice and Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Greta Gooden Brown, Neil M. Fidalgo Arruda, 27, of Union County and his girlfriend Simone Fernandes, 25, of Union County, were charged in two separate State Grand Jury indictments handed up to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg, the Assignment Judge in charge of the State Grand Jury, on Aug. 29. The cases will be assigned to the Essex County Superior Court for trial. Arruda and Fernandes will be ordered to appear in Court to answer the charges on a date to be determined.

The State Grand Jury indictments charge Arruda with conspiracy (2nd degree), theft by deception (2nd degree) and false incrimination (4th degree). Fernandes was charged with conspiracy, theft by deception and hindering apprehension or prosecution (3rd degree). A second degree crime carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. A third degree crime is punishable by up to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Additionally, Arruda and Fernandes face the possibility of the imposition of civil insurance fraud fines pursuant to the Insurance Fraud Prevention Act.

According to Gooden Brown, the State Grand Jury indictment alleges that between March, 1998 and February, 2000, Arruda, using the name Rui Salgado, conspired with another individual to drive a car over two parked motorcycles. Arruda then filed a $9,854 property damage claim with the Prudential Insurance Company for damage to a Kawasaki motorcycle and a $9,675 claim with Ryder Insurance Company for damage to a Ducati motorcycle. In order to support the false insurance claims, Arruda filed a false police report with the Elizabeth Police Department.

The second indictment alleges that between August, 1998 and May, 1999, Arruda’s girlfriend, Simone Fernandes, along with several other co-conspirators, assisted Arruda in the staged accident scam by falsifying a statement in support of the false Kawasaki motorcycle claim made to the Prudential Insurance Company. Additionally, the indictment charges that Fernandes staged a separate false accident involving a 1994 Honda Civic automobile. The staged accident was reported to the Newark Police Department. A $7,995 property damage claim for the Honda automobile was subsequently paid by the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company.

To date, the Division of Criminal Justice – Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor has obtained six separate indictments which charge seven individuals with participating in the conspiracy to stage accidents and submit phony insurance claims. The indictments charge Antonio Oliviera, 36, of Newark; Francisco da Cruz, 25, of Newark; Maria Antunes, 33, of Newark; Rui Salgado, 24, from Newark; Ricardo Ventura, 24, of Newark; Joseph Caponegro, 23, from Newark; and Anthony Padovano, 24, of Harrison with conspiracy, theft by deception, and unsworn falsification to authorities.

On June 20, Ventura pled guilty before Union County Superior Court Judge John Triarsi. Ventura is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 3. Salgado, Padovano and Caponegro are pending Sept. 8 trial before Judge Triarsi. Oliviera and da Cruz are scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 20 before Judge Triarsi. Oliviera and Antunes are slated for trial on Nov. 10.

Additionally, on Dec. 20, 2002, a State Grand Jury returned a separate indictment charging another Arruda co-conspirator, Nelson Soares, who resides in Los Angeles, with conspiracy, theft by deception and hindering apprehension.

The indictment alleged that on Aug. 21, 1998, Soares purposely drove a rented U-Haul truck into a 1994 BMW purportedly driven by Fernandes. The staged accident was reported to the Newark Police Department. Soares, currently a fugitive, is pending trial in Essex County Superior Court.

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