CENTRAL VALLEY— On September 15, 2015, four of seven defendants were arrested on federal charges for their alleged involvement in a $1.2 million insurance fraud scheme involving staged car crashes.
A federal indictment charges:
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
with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud.
Landa, Sanchez-Becerra, and Apu were arrested at their residences. Vargas was arrested at his business Vargas Auto Body in Turlock. Soriano-Villafan was arrested last week in Las Vegas and arraigned in U.S. District Court in Fresno.
"California Department of Insurance investigators and detectives work year-round to put a stop to insurance fraud and staged vehicle accidents," said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association President Alan Barcelona. "California is hotspot for this type of illegal activity and that translates into higher premiums for all of us."
According to court documents, from October 2011 until August 2014, the defendants conspired to stage dozens of car accidents and submit false claims seeking compensation for the damage caused by the staged accidents. In each staged accident, the defendants damaged two or three vehicles and caused about $5,000 to $10,000 of damage to each vehicle. After each staged collision, all parties involved submitted a similar cover story to an insurer that concealed the true cause of the accident and commonly used aliases, false identities, and false addresses. The defendants usually used different vehicles in the staged collisions by obtaining many different vehicles and using false identities to both register the vehicles with the Department of Motor Vehicles and obtain insurance policies for the vehicles.
The indictment further alleges that the defendants were able to repeat the scheme in dozens of crashes by recruiting other individuals in the staged collisions. These individuals would allow their vehicles to be damaged in a staged collision and submit their own claim for damages after receiving instructions from the defendants about the cover story to use. In many instances, false claims were submitted to the recruited individual’s insurance company. Commonly, the defendants would also offer to repair the recruited individual’s vehicle at one of their automobile repair shops, usually with less-than-complete repair work, for a fee less than the payment from an insurance company on the damaged vehicle.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the California Department of Insurance, Fraud Division.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count of the indictment.