Many have gone through it before. You are in a car accident, and, assuming everyone involved is physically okay, your biggest concern is what lies ahead for you. You have to file a police report and inform your insurance company, after making sure you got the insurance information from the other parties. Your vehicle may be towed and will get appraised for the damage. You’ll need a rental car while it is being repaired, and you hope your vehicle can be fixed quickly. If your insurance company is good, they’ll help settle your claim fast and take care of everything, but you still have to stay on top of it. If the vehicle is totaled, you’ll have to shop for a new one, and hope you get enough money to cover it, and it may take longer to shop for than your rental car is provided. Then you may have to worry about who was at fault, and if you are liable for damage, and if your rates will go up, and on and on…
So it is hard to believe someone would actually want to do all that to make a living. But according to the California Department of Insurance Fraud Division, seven people from the central valley have been indicted for staging real car crashes to take advantage of insurance companies. As of last week, September 15, Juan Ortiz Rivas, 38 of Ceres, Oscar Diaz Landa, 45 of San Jose, Victor Hugo Soriano-Villafan, 25 of Modesto, Liobigildo Vargas, 45 of Turlock, Juan Marquez Cadenas, 29 of Patterson, Cristopher Santiago Sanchez-Becerra, 31 of Stockton, and Alfonso Apu, 47 of Modesto have all been arrested and indicted for fraud. They are currently charged with mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Investigators found that between October of 2011 and August of 2014, the group worked together to stage dozens of car accidents, and submitted false claims to get insurance money for the damage to the cars. They would typically involve two or three vehicles in the collisions, causing an estimated $5,000 to $10,000 in damage to each. They would then submit claims to insurance using similar stories about what happened to cover up the fact that is was all planned. They used false names and addresses as well, and obtained their vehicles using false identities to purchase, register, and then buy insurance for them.
They also recruited additional “accident victims” who would be involved in a staged crash and submit a claim to their insurance carrier, repeating a story agreed upon with the defendants. Liobigildo Vargas is the owner of Vargas Auto Body in Turlock, and his shop, along with C&R Auto Repair in Modesto, would make repairs to the cars, overestimating and under-repairing so they and the car owner could pocket the profits.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick R. Delahunty and Henry Z. Carbajal III. The defendants are facing up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count against them. Investigators worked together with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), who may have additional charges of their own depending on the defendants’ citizenship or immigration status.
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