Calif. Authorities Pull Over Major Auto Ring

December 20, 2004

Warning drivers that anyone can become a victim of insurance fraud, Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi and the California Highway Patrol announced the bust of an alleged auto insurance fraud ring that cost insurers – and ultimately policyholders – at least $1.5 million in the past year alone.

“These alleged criminals placed their own greed above the safety of others,” said Garamendi. “Few crimes are more despicable than staging auto collisions, which not only threaten the health of innocent victims, but cost all of us by raising the cost of auto insurance.”

CHP Assistant Chief Art Acevedo added that, “In addition to the financial burden these types of individuals create for all of us, the most pressing issue is the immediate safety hazard caused by their willful and wanton disregard for public safety. For the purpose of financial gain they intentionally create an environment which could likely result in the injury, or even the deaths, of innocent motorists. This unconscionable, reckless and self-serving attitude will not be tolerated.”

Task force investigators estimate that $1.5 million in fraudulent insurance claims have been generated by the alleged crime ring as a result of at least 75 staged auto collisions over the past year. This ring operated primarily on busy Los Angeles County freeways.

Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force (AIFTF) members arrested 13 suspects on Dec. 17, 2004. Four suspects remain at large. Task force actions included executing ten search warrants in Los Angeles on five law offices, two medical clinics and three private residences. Previous search warrants allowed investigators to recover items such as fraudulent documents, falsified insurance paperwork, and information detailing many of the staged collisions. Numerous victim interviews were also conducted, as well as photographic line-ups which implicated several suspects involved in multiple collisions.

The AIFTF investigation began in March 2004 after Task Force investigators received information about a staged auto collision ring. It detailed what is a typical maneuver for these types of rings.

They orchestrate a collision that appears to be the fault of an innocent victim, then file fraudulent insurance claims for financial gain. They typically target vehicles which they feel would be fully insured.
Following the collisions, the parties involved either exchange information with the innocent driver, or the police (usually CHP) arrive and handle the collision report.

Complicit legal offices and medical clinics, typically attorneys and chiropractors themselves, work with the involved parties to indicate injuries on the proper forms and use the fake identities throughout the claim. The attorneys subsequently submit the claims to the insurance companies and refer the suspect drivers and passengers to medical clinics.

Suspects arrested in connection with this reported scam face various charges from an 85 count complaint, ranging from insurance fraud to assault with a deadly weapon. They all reside in Los Angeles:

Roberto Edgardo Tobar Barraza, 33 (not in custody)
Beatriz Mejia Campos, 29
Patricia Cardenas, 27
Edgar Leonel Catalan, 49
Sonia Cisneros, 35
Rodrigo Daniel Flores, 21 (not in custody)
Jabbar Enrique Moulton, 32
Inocente Nunez, 51
Adilia Palacios, 32
Yolanda Palomares, 34
Constantino Guillen Pineda, 33 (not in custody)
Evelyn Xiomara Torrento, 23
Jose Carlos Vera, 36 (not in custody)
Francesca Vidaur, 28
Mary Kathryn Vines, 30
Denise Wilds, 40
Ramiro Zavala, 22

The case is being prosecuted by the LA District Attorney’s Auto Insurance Fraud Division. Anyone who suspects they may have been a victim of these crimes, or has information about the whereabouts of suspects still at large, should call the Department of Insurance hotline at 1-800-927-HELP.

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