Calif. Warrant Sweep Nets Eight Suspects; Six Wanted for Insurance Fraud

February 28, 2005

Starting last Thursday, investigators from the California Department of Insurance’s Fraud Division (CDI) conducted joint operations in the Central Valley to execute outstanding arrest warrants. This sweep netted eight suspects, including six wanted by CDI for felony insurance fraud.

CDI partnered with the Fresno District Attorney’s Office, Fresno Police Department, and the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office for operations in Madera, Merced, Fresno, and Tulare Counties. In the online case, CDI worked closely with Esurance Property and Casualty’s (Esurance’s) Special Investigation Unit.

Arrested Thursday were: Victor Aguilar, 34, of Merced; Gloria Cortez Keene, 65 of Merced; Kimberly Elaine Knight, 38, of Fresno; and Steven Rodney Upshaw, 42, of Madera. If convicted, each suspect could face up to five years in state prison and/or a maximum fine of $50,000.

In the first case, Aguilar was charged with two felony counts of insurance fraud and grand theft. This case was investigated by CDI with assistance from the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, which is also prosecuting the case.

In December 2004, the California State Automobile Association’s (CSAA’s) Special Investigation Unit advised CDI of a call from a victim in a domestic violence case who stated that her boyfriend, Aguilar, had made a fraudulent insurance claim regarding the burglary of his residence. Investigators subsequently recovered a large amount of furniture and other items which had been claimed as stolen.

Investigators reportedly later determined that Aguilar reported the burglary after a previous domestic violence incident which caused his girlfriend to move to a domestic violence shelter. When the victim moved out, Aguilar accused her of taking his personal property. The domestic violence victim stated that the items which he reported stolen were actually hers; when she moved out she placed them into storage.

However, Aguilar discovered the location of the stored items and returned them to his residence prior to concluding his insurance claim. Nevertheless, Aguilar reportedly completed his insurance claim and was paid approximately $2,400 for the items by CSAA.

During the investigation the suspect was served with a domestic violence emergency protective order, restraining him from contacting the domestic violence victim or returning to their Merced residence. Regardless, investigators seeking a second interview with the domestic violence victim reportedly observed Aguilar exiting their residence. Consequently, he will also face charges for violating that emergency protective order.

In the second case, Keene, a former member of the Merced County Board of Supervisors, was arrested for auto insurance fraud. She faces two felony counts of presenting a false or fraudulent claim and presenting a false statement regarding an insurance claim. The case is being prosecuted by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

This case was referred to CDI by United States Automobile Association Insurance (USAA), who suspected fraudulent activity in an automobile claim filed by Keene in 2003.

USAA paid $2,500 for the collision damage on a claim that Keene allegedly occurred on January 20, 2003. During the investigation, however, information surfaced that the damage reported by Keene was the same damage observed on the vehicle when it was owned by Keene’s daughter, Julie Valdez. An independent witness reportedly stated that the damage originally appeared on the vehicle on Feb. 19, 2002, and was reported to USAA by Julie Valdez as having occurred on April19, 2002.

Valdez is currently facing insurance fraud charges in Merced County.

Keene added the same vehicle to her policy on Oct. 28, 2002, and reported the alleged, Jan. 20 loss on June 11, 2003. A comparison of the damage showed it was the same damage.

In the third case, Knight and Upshaw were both charged with three felony counts each of insurance fraud, willful destruction of insured property, and presenting a false insurance claim for auto theft.

In a previous, unannounced action, Marks self-surrendered to CDI investigators in December of 2004 on multiple felony counts of insurance fraud relating to the same investigation. This case is being prosecuted by the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.

This case began in May 2004 when CSAA reported to CDI that it had received information that Marks filed a fraudulent insurance claim regarding the theft of her 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier. During a subsequent investigation by CDI, Marks reportedly admitted she had arranged the destruction of her vehicle in order to have her insurance company, CSAA, pay off the balance of her vehicle loan.

Marks stated that Knight reportedly assisted her by arranging for the vehicle to be destroyed and by making false statements to the Fresno police at the time the vehicle was initially reported stolen. Upshaw subsequently admitted that Knight attempted to have him destroy Marks vehicle. When Upshaw refused, Knight reportedly recruited him to bring an uncharged accomplice into contact with her for the purpose of participating in the fraudulent insurance claim. Upshaw admitted knowingly recruiting this accomplice who eventually “chopped,” or illegally cut up, the vehicle. Marks’ allegedly fraudulent insurance claim defrauded CSAA of $12,759.

Saturday, Steve Rivera, 44, of Clovis, self-surrendered to authorities at the Fresno county jail on a warrant for three felonies: insurance fraud, making material misrepresentations to representatives of his insurer, Esurance, and bringing another person – a close female acquaintance – into the scheme to bolster his material misrepresentations.

As with Aguilar, Keene, Knight, and Upshaw, Rivera could face up to five years in state prison and/or a maximum fine of $50,000 if convicted.

Evidence reportedly uncovered during investigations by Esurance and CDI revealed that Rivera was not insured at the time of his collision. On July 25, 2004, Rivera’s vehicle struck another vehicle between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Rivera’s auto insurance policy had reportedly expired due to non-payment of premium fees, so he purchased an Esurance auto insurance policy online with his credit card at 6:47 p.m. that evening. The next morning, Rivera called Esurance’s Loss Department to file his claim, stating that the collision occurred at 7:00 p.m. on July 25, 2004. He also identified a witness to the collision and stated that he didn’t know her. In reality, the alleged witness did not see or hear the collision and was reportedly romantically involved with Rivera. He reportedly repeated this story to two different Esurance representatives.

Esurance had paid out $1,217 on Rivera’s claim, which totaled $12,265, before realizing it may be a case of online fraud.

Three other suspects were arrested on unrelated charges during the warrant sweep. Thursday, Sheri Alice Vasquez, (aka Sheri Alice Herrick, aka Sheri Alice Boswell), 44, of Visalia, was arrested by CDI on an embezzlement charge in Fresno County. Fresno police officers, assisted by CDI, also arrested Brian Keith Childers, 41 of Fresno, that day on an outstanding felony warrant charging him with violation of probation. Childers is a close acquaintance of Knight.

Friday, Tom Her, 49, of Fresno, was arrested at his residence by CDI on a felony warrant from Fresno County for allegedly embezzling $22,434 in automobile insurance premiums from his former employer, Farmers Insurance Group.

This case was investigated and is being prosecuted by the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office. If convicted, Her faces a maximum of three years in state prison.

Her was licensed as a fire and casualty broker/agent and a life agent. Her’s licenses expired on July 31, 2003.

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