Public adjuster arrested for ripping off Southland fire victims
News: 2016 Press Release
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Jose Manuel Villa, 60, of San Clemente, a former licensed public adjuster, was arrested today at his home in San Clemente on multiple felony counts of embezzlement, grand theft, and forgery after allegedly cashing claim checks with counterfeit endorsement seals and stealing a total of $400,000 from fire victims in the Los Angeles area.
After receiving multiple complaints from consumers, the California Department of Insurance Investigation Division launched an investigation. Evidence revealed Villa, doing business as Statewide Claims Advisors, allegedly cashed and deposited multiple claims checks with counterfeit endorsement seals that were issued by insurance companies to fire victims to repair and rebuild their damaged properties.
"These consumers were victimized twice," said Commissioner Jones. "Once when their home was damaged by fire and then again when Villa allegedly forged endorsements on their insurance payments and stole the money intended to rebuild their homes."
Villa solicited fire victims to sign public adjuster contracts allowing him to handle their claims, but instead of forwarding these checks to lenders for endorsements and proper handling, Villa deposited the checks into his business accounts and diverted the funds for his personal use.
Villa refused to release claim funds to many victims who desperately needed to rebuild their homes. Villa released some funds to contractors, using forged endorsements, and in one case, hired an unlicensed contractor whose work was substandard, which led to a second fire in the home which further victimized the homeowners.
Investigators are concerned there are more victims and are asking anyone who hired Villa to contact the Department of Insurance Investigations Division.
Villa was booked into the Orange County Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana and bail was set at $250,000. This case is being prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. Villa surrendered his public adjuster license to the department.
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- Arrest photo can be found on CDI's Flickr site: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ca_dept_insurance/albums/72157671114474894
- Scheduled to appear in the Los Angeles County Court on October 7, 2016.
- The department is asking media to help inform Southern California residents of Villa's scam and requesting that any other victims of Villa contact the department's Investigation Division at (661) 253-7500.
- Villa was charged with (2) felony counts of Embezzlement, PC 504, (2) felony counts of Grand Theft, PC 487(a) and (5) felony counts of Forgery Counterfeit Seal, PC 472.
- Don't get burned after a disaster. Tips and tools to help prevent you from getting burned by a scam artist.
Tips for hiring a public adjuster:
- Consider trying to settle your claim directly with your insurance company before hiring a public adjuster or an attorney. Your insurer provides an adjuster at no charge to you.
- Ask your insurance agent or company representative to help you with your claim and don't be afraid to ask questions.
- If you hire a public adjuster to help you with a claim, make sure they are licensed. You can check their license status by calling our toll-free consumer hotline or checking the department's website.
- Public adjusters usually require a percentage of the claim settlement for their services. Make sure you understand what they charge and the services you are paying for before you sign a contract.
- Public adjusters are prohibited from soliciting business until seven days have elapsed since the occurrence of a disaster. (Does not apply if the licensee is contacted directly by the insured or the insured's representative)
- Public adjusters are not allowed to solicit business or initiate any contact with a policyholder between the hours of 6 P.M. and 8 A.M.
The California Department of Insurance, established in 1868, is the largest consumer protection agency in California. Insurers collect $289 billion in premiums annually in California. Since 2011 the California Department of Insurance received more than 1,000,000 calls from consumers and helped recover over $394 million in claims and premiums. Please visit the Department of Insurance web site at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.HELP or 213.897.8921. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.