SAN DIEGO – On December 5, 2019, investigators from the California Department of Insurance (CDI), San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, and the California Highway Patrol arrested four suspects for their alleged involvement in an organized auto fraud ring where dealers purchased damaged vehicles and then filed inflated claims and even staged thefts costing insurers a $500,000 loss. In total 10 suspects have been charged in this joint task force investigation dubbed Operation Dealer’s Choice.
“Insurance fraud costs each and everyone of us money in higher premiums,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. “Thank you to the law enforcement officers at CDI who work to investigate and arrest those who cheat, steal and commit insurance fraud. These cases are not always easy to identify or investigate. Thankfully someone made a phone call to alert investigators to this group of suspects.”
Operation Dealer’s Choice was initiated after the San Diego District Attorney’s Office received a tip the ring was purchasing vehicles at local auto auctions, and after insuring and registering them, filing fraudulent total damage or theft claims to receive unearned payouts from insurance carriers.
The investigation determined the ring purchased vehicles at auction that were already damaged, had high mileage, or both, at a significantly low dollar amount. Once the vehicle was purchased, registered and insured by a carrier, the suspects filed a total damage or total theft claim and the ring shared the profits. Investigators discovered 35 possible fraudulent auto insurance claims were filed over a four-year period. Approximately 56 vehicles were used by the ring.
Numerous vehicles purchased by the suspects in this case had the vehicles’ odometer mileages “rolled back” in order to increase the value of the vehicle before it was damaged or reported stolen. The remaining vehicles had significant damage prior to being insured or may have been damaged by the group after being insured.
The ring victimized 12 insurance carriers including Nationwide, Stonewood, USAA, California Casualty, Allstate, State Farm, Liberty Mutual, Esurance, GEICO, Kemper, Wawanesa, and AAA. The dollar loss estimate for this case is in excess of $500,000 at this time.
List of suspects in custody:
Michael Cusi, 32, of San Diego
Jessica Herrera, 36, of Imperial Beach
Mylipsa Santos, 23, of San Diego
Daniel Santos, 24, San Diego
List of additional suspects:
Luis Cardona Jr., 26, of National City
Francisco Javier Rodriguez, 33, of Chula Vista
Jesus Herrera, 34, of Spring Valley
Betsy Guadalupe Matteoti, 35, of San Diego
Ramon De Jesus Hernandez, 56, of San Diego
Felipe Cardona Villareal, 25, of Tampa, Florida