Four Inland Empire, Calif., residents have been arrested for alleged felony auto insurance fraud, the California Department of Insurance reported. Travis Jones, 24, who was with the Banning Police Department for less than one year, and his father, Jeffrey Jones, 52, were arrested at their Corona residence. Also arrested was Jones’ neighbor, Ernest Leite Jr., 44. All three suspects were booked at the Riverside County Jail with their bail set at $50,000 each. Travis Jones’ childhood friend, Steven Mestas, 31, of Riverside was ordered to appear in court on June 1, 2010.
For involvement in the fraudulent reporting of a vehicle theft and subsequent insurance claim, Travis was charged with three felonies; the other three suspects were charged with two felonies each. The San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting this case, which resulted from a year and a half investigation.
According to CDI, on Sept. 8, 2008, Travis Jones reported to the Riverside Police Department that his 2005 Dodge Ram pickup truck had been stolen. Jones told police that he drove his truck to a residence in Riverside to attend a birthday party, staying at this residence until the following morning, at which time he discovered the supposed theft. On Sept. 10, 2008, Travis filed an insurance claim with his insurer, Mercury Insurance Co. for the loss.
During the claims process, however, Mercury found that Jones’ truck had been driven into Mexico on Sept. 7, 2008, disputing Travis Jones’ timeline and causing him to admit that his truck had not been stolen from Riverside — he withdrew his claim to Mercury. Further investigation revealed that Travis Jones wanted to buy a new Dodge Charger, but was financially obligated for the 2005 Dodge Ram pickup truck. Travis knew the insurance settlement would relieve him of this financial obligation, allowing the purchase of the new vehicle.
The investigation also disclosed that Jones planned on using alcohol consumption to account for the timeline discrepancy in the event law enforcement became involved with the insurance claim. Travis Jones allegedly conspired with Mestas, Jeffrey Jones, and Leite to corroborate his story. Mestas admitted later that the birthday party and the theft story were both fabricated. Had the fraudulent claim gone on undetected, Mercury could have been responsible for paying $15,000 to Travis Jones.
This case was part of the Inland Empire Organized Automobile Fraud Interdiction Program and was investigated by detectives from the California Highway Patrol and Department of Insurance. In addition, the investigation was assisted by Mercury’s Special Investigations Unit as well as the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
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