“This type of criminal activity impacts all of us in the form of higher insurance premiums. Kudos to the investigators who put a stop to this ring and thanks to the consumer who alerted authorities.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
SAN DIEGO – On July 16, 2021, the California Department of Insurance (CDI) announced that 17 additional defendants have been arraigned for their alleged involvement in an organized auto insurance fraud ring in which dealers allegedly purchased damaged vehicles and then filed inflated claims and even staged thefts, costing insurers an approximately $822,000 loss.
Four people have already been sentenced in the multi-agency investigation dubbed Operation Dealer’s Choice, and 32 defendants have been charged or prosecuted in total.
The case was investigated by the San Diego County Organized Automobile Insurance Fraud Task Force made up of the California Department of Insurance, San Diego District Attorney’s Office and California Highway Patrol.
Operation Dealer’s Choice began after the San Diego District Attorney’s Office received a consumer call claiming the ring was purchasing vehicles at local auto auctions and 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 reduced cost. 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 45 possible fraudulent auto insurance claims were filed over a four-year period, involving approximately 56 vehicles. 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. Other vehicles had significant damage prior to being insured that was not disclosed to the carrier, or are believed to be damaged by the group after being insured.
Investigators believe that ring members staged collisions in which they would purposely damage vehicles to the point of a total loss to collect an insurance claim check for the damage. Suspects also staged thefts to get insurance payouts. In some cases, suspects filed claims shortly after taking out an insurance policy, collected a check for their reported loss, then let the policy lapse without paying the premium.
The ring victimized 12 insurance carriers including Nationwide, Stonewood, USAA, California Casualty, Allstate, State Farm, Liberty Mutual, Esurance, GEICO, Kemper, Wawanesa, and AAA.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting this case.
Defendants who have been sentenced:
- Michael Cusi Jr., 34, of San Diego – Sentenced on March 3, 2020, to two years in prison and to pay $139,253 in restitution.
- Mylipsa Santos, 24, of San Diego – Sentenced on January 14, 2021, to 180 days custody, two years formal probation, and 160 hours community service.
- Daniel Santos, 64, San Diego –Sentenced on July 13, 2020, to five years in prison, 30 months mandatory supervision and to pay $140,017 in restitution.
- Felipe Cardona Villareal, 27, of Tampa, Florida - Sentenced on January 14, 2021, to 180 days custody, two years formal probation, and 160 hours community service.
Defendants who have been arraigned:
- James Cabal, 32, of Chula Vista
- Vandarell Bonus, 30, of San Diego
- Ana Maria Gutierrez-Herrera, 40, San Diego
- Cesareo Martinez, 37, of San Diego
- Ralph Leonardo, 28, of San Diego
- Betsy Matteotti, 37, of San Diego
- Erick Meza Garcia, 34, of Tijuana, Mexico
- Jackalynn Gutierrez-Herrera, 20, of San Diego
- Malive Parker, 28, of Lemon Grove
- Araceli Perez, 27, of San Diego
- Cashalerie Sanchez, 26, of Vista
- Mark Payumo, 34, of National City
- Sebastian Torres, 29, of San Diego
- Dulce Jasmin Hernandez-Ramirez, 23, of San Diego
- Floyd Roberto Shaver, 58, of Tijuana, Mexico
- Vincent Rodriguez, 25, of Chula Vista
- Jayson Muncal, 32, of San Diego
Additional suspects who have been charged:
- Luis Cardona Jr., 27, of National City
- Jesus Herrera, 36, of Spring Valley
- Betsy Guadalupe Matteoti, 37, of San Diego
- Jessica Herrera, 38, of Imperial Beach
- Ramon De Jesus Hernandez, 58, of San Diego
- Francisco Javier Rodriguez, 34, of Chula Vista
- Martin Urquidez-Perez, 22, of Mesa, Arizona
- Art Deleon, 55, of San Diego
- Luis Alberto Velasco, 25, of San Diego
- Julio Mojica Jr., 26, of San Diego
- Juan Carlos Quinonez-Arreola, 31, San Diego