California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner announced the arrests of two individuals for allegedly fraudulent insurance claims made in the aftermath of the 2007 Southern California wildfires. Iraj Bassir of Escondido, Calif., and Maria Lourdes Solis Castillo of Encinitas, Calif., were arrested on felony insurance fraud charges and attempted grand theft, also a felony. Search warrants related to the case were executed as well.
The case, which is being prosecuted by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, is the result of a joint investigation by California Department of Insurance’s Fraud Division (CDI) and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.
According to the California Department of Insurance, Bassir claimed loss of personal property, and expenses for lodging and pet boarding stemming from damage done to his Escondido home in October 2007. Bassir submitted more than $17,000 in damage to his shed and landscaping, as well as expenses for ash and soot clean-up.
Bassir also claimed more than $46,000 in losses from property loaded into a 1990 Ford Bronco, which burned. He and Castillo told Liberty Mutual the losses included a $10,000 Persian rug, a $15,000 Rolex watch, two computers, a 46-inch plasma TV, a Vitamex blender, and camcorder.
It was further stated by Bassir that he incurred $10,800 in lodging at the Sunburst Guest Home, a residential care facility in Encinitas. In addition, he also alleged that his German shepherd and Persian cat incurred more than $3,770 in boarding costs.
According to the DOI, further investigation, evidence and witness statements revealed numerous inconsistencies with claims made by Bassir and Castillo, who have had a long-term relationship. For example, items allegedly lost in the fire appear not to have been purchased by Bassir or Castillo, and the pet center listed for boarding did not exist.
Bassir also said he did not know who owned the Sunburst Guest Home, although he was listed as the property owner and Castillo presented a rental agreement for the premises signed by herself and Bassir when the facility applied for its license with the state’s Department of Social Services. Bassir stated to Liberty Mutual that he was neither disabled nor in need of assistance when he resided at the residential care home; Castillo claimed that Bassir was ill and in need of care. Furthermore, California did not license the facility to have any residents until 10 days after Bassir claimed he began his lodging.
“Rebuilding after a disaster can be a difficult process, and allegations like these only slow the claims process for legitimate victims,” said Commissioner Poizner.
Assisting in the investigation were the Sycuan Reservation Police Department, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company’s (Liberty Mutual’s) Special Investigations Unit, and the state Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division.
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