California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi announced the arrests of three suspects who were allegedly said to have participated in the staging of auto collisions on the 605 Freeway.
Three of the suspects — Liliana Mazariegos, 30, Exau Gonzalez Yanez, 22, and Alex Diaz, 41– were arrested on April 24, 2006, for conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, intentionally staging a motor vehicle collision for the purpose of committing insurance fraud, and assault with a deadly weapon for their reckless and dangerous use of a vehicle.
According to the California Department of Insurance (CDI) investigators, on April 24, Mazariegos, Yanez and Diaz staged a collision on the 605 freeway south of the Rosecrans Avenue off-ramp in Los Angeles. Their target was an unmarked newer vehicle which happened to be occupied by two detectives from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. The detectives provided a detailed statement of the events surrounding the collision to the California Highway Patrol who then notified investigators from the L.A. County Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force (LA AIFTF) to come to the scene. The three suspects are each being held on $200,000 bail.
“The act of staging collisions is a horrible crime — endangering the lives of innocent motorists,” said Garamendi. “Those who believe they can get away with this type of abhorrent act must be warned — you will be caught and prosecuted.”
The LA AIFTF, a task force comprised of CDI Fraud investigators, California Highway Patrol and L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, began an investigation into the collision which is dubbed “Operation Cop Squat.” Based on statements obtained from the drivers at the scene, investigators discovered that two other individuals and vehicles participated in the staged collision. It was found that the drivers of the other two vehicles were Hugo Eduardo Diaz Lanuza, 39, and his wife Maria Melgar, 38. Investigators obtained and served a search warrant at their residence.
In their home, several insurance documents and evidence of multiple identifications were seized by investigators indicating their possible involvement in planning and participating in several other staged collisions on L.A. and Orange County freeways. It was also discovered that Lanuza and Melgar were “on the run” in an attempt to flee the LA AIFTF investigation. Investigators obtained arrest warrants for the two parties.
On April 27, LA AIFTF investigators were able to locate and arrest both Lanuza and Melgar in Los Angeles for conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, staging a vehicle collision for the purpose of committing insurance fraud and assault with a deadly weapon. Melgar is being held on $200,000 bail, while Lanuza is being held on $120,000.
During the investigation, it was discovered that some of the suspects were undocumented immigrants and had obtained numerous California driver licenses with aliases by submitting false information and fake birth certificates on the driver’s license application forms. This information was provided to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency for further investigation into additional federal violations of law.
The preliminary hearing was held on May 8, 2006, in L.A. Superior Court and is being prosecuted by the L.A. County District Attorney Office’s Auto Insurance Fraud Division. Investigators from the CDI Fraud Division’s Commerce regional office and officers from the California Highway Patrol Santa Fe Springs Office assisted with the investigation.
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