STOCKTON – On February 3, 2020, Tyler Chen, 49, his wife Kim Chen, 47, and friend Ha Nguyen, 64, were sentence for their roles in an insurance fraud case which involved arson at numerous locations. The guilty individuals claimed chicken frying and left unattended was the cause of the fires which damaged homes, businesses and warehouses.
Tyler Chen pleaded guilty to counts of arson, an aggravated white-collar crime enhancement and insurance fraud and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Kim Chen pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and was sentenced to one year in county jail.
Ha Nguyen pleaded guilty to arson, an aggravated white-collar crime enhancement and insurance fraud. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
California Department of Insurance investigators discovered the scam in January 2014, when they received a tip through the department’s consumer hotline regarding a string of home, business and warehouse fires that occurred between December 2011 and September 2013. The tipster also gave the exact address of where the next house fire would occur. The Department of Insurance launched a joint investigation dubbed Operation Firebird with the San Jose Fire Department, the Santa Clara County District Attorney and San Joaquin County District Attorney into fires that occurred at a business and two homes in San Jose and Stockton owned by the Chens.
“Not only did this fraud cost insurance companies hundreds of thousands of dollars, it put the lives of others at risk,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. “State and local investigators do a great job when they work together.”
The three sentenced were also ordered to pay restitution totaling $582,506.36.
Both the residential fires were reported to have started when chicken was being fried and left unattended on the stove. Mr. Chen orchestrated the entire scam to make it appear as though the fire was the result of a careless cooking incident. Furthermore, Chen proceeded to plant smoke-damaged items in the homes, many of which they had already used in insurance claims from other fires in their warehouses and businesses.
Chen and Nguyen rented a number of warehouses for an import and export business they co-owned. According to investigators, the business partners used smoke-damaged possessions to also claim damage from fires in their other warehouses. The investigation also found that goods claimed to be damaged in the fire had been purchased, but had not yet been received, which led detectives to arrest Nguyen for his role in the fraud scheme.
Chen and Nguyen attempted to claim damages of $5,653,665, of which $4,009,008 was paid out by five victim insurance companies.