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Ringleader of family arson crew pleads guilty in $4 million Operation Firebird insurance fraud case

News: 2019 Press Release

For Release: November 7, 2019
Media Calls Only: 916-492-3566
Email Inquiries: cdipress@insurance.ca.gov
Ringleader of family arson crew pleads guilty in $4 million Operation Firebird insurance fraud case

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Tyler Chen, 48, pleaded guilty this week in the Santa Clara County Superior Court following his arrest on multiple felony counts of insurance fraud and arson for his role in setting fires in a $4 million fraud scheme. His wife, Kim, 45, also pleaded guilty this week on multiple felony counts. Four co-conspirators including business associate, Ha Nguyen, 63, of Stockton, were also arrested and charged. The Chens and Nguyen will return to court January 3, 2020, for sentencing.

“We stamped out this dangerous and costly scam thanks to the hard work of Department of Insurance detectives who pursued a tipster’s alert and launched a joint investigation,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. "Operation Firebird is a great team effort and shows how our department works with local investigators and district attorney’s offices to combat complex insurance fraud.”

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 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.

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. Chen recruited a family member, a co-worker, and another local business owner to take part in their ruse. Co-conspirators, Trang Huynh, 34, of Stockton, Suong (Sandy) Ngo, 49, of Santa Clara, and Duyen Pham, 49, of San Jose, were also arrested for their involvement. Nguyen pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts of insurance fraud and arson on September 16, 2019.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting this case. The Chens, Ha Nguyen, and Duyen Pham are scheduled to return to court on January 3, 2020, at 1:30pm in Department 40 for sentencing. Suong (Sandy) Ngo will return to court on December 19, 2019 at 1:30pm in Department 38. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office is also prosecuting this case.

 

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Media Notes:

 

NAME

SANTA CLARA COUNTY

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY

Tyler Chen

2x PC 451(b) Arson, inhabited

3x PC 451(c) Arson, structure

2x PC 550(a)(1) –Ins. Fraud

1x PC 548(a)– Defrauding an insurer

3x PC 451(b) Arson, inhabited

3x PC 550(a)(1) –Ins. Fraud

Kim Chen

2x PC 550(a)(1) –Ins. Fraud

3x PC 451(b) Arson, inhabited

3x PC 550(a)(1) –Ins. Fraud

Ha Nguyen

2x PC 451(b) Arson, inhabited

1x PC 451(c) Arson, structure

1x PC 550(a)(1) –Ins. Fraud

1x PC 548(a) Defrauding an insurer

3x PC 451(b) Arson, inhabited

3x PC 550(a)(1) –Ins. Fraud

Sandy Ngo

2x PC 451(c) Arson, structure

1x PC 550(b)(1) –Ins. Fraud

3x PC 550(a)(1) –Ins. Fraud

-

Duyen Pham

1x PC 451(b) Arson, inhabited

1x PC 550(a)(1) –Ins. Fraud

-

Trang Huynh

-

1x PC 550(a)(1) –Ins. Fraud

 



The California Department of Insurance, established in 1868, is the largest consumer protection agency in California. Insurers collect $310 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 $469 million in claims and premiums. Please visit the Department of Insurance website at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.4357. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.

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