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Swerving for dollars 18 charged in organized auto fraud crime ring

News: 2017 Press Release

For Release: June 16, 2017
Media Calls Only: 916-492-3566
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Swerving for dollars 18 charged in organized auto fraud crime ring
Silicon Valley area suspects filed $150,000 in allegedly fraudulent claims

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Department of Insurance detectives and investigators with the Silicon Valley Organized Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force arrested 14 people and are seeking four additional suspects for allegedly running an organized auto insurance fraud ring netting conspirators approximately $150,000.

More than 75 felony charges were filed against 18 suspects, some of whom were arrested during a sweep last month, including the owner of Espinoza Body Shop in San Jose, Gerardo Ivan Espinosa Martinez, 31, and his wife, Eva Maria Espinoza, 29.

According to department detectives, the investigation revealed the crime ring allegedly staged 15 crashes and filed corresponding insurance claims receiving payouts totaling around $150,000 from six different insurance companies, including some of the largest auto insurers in the nation. Espinosa Body Shop was involved in seven of the 15 different false claims.

"Organized crime rings are not only responsible for the majority of staged collisions, they have also targeted innocent motorists and resulted in serious injuries," said California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "Through the good work of our multi-agency task force, another dangerous organized crime ring has been put out of business."

After noting suspicious circumstances in a reported crash, an insurance company reported the claim to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), who referred the case to the Department of Insurance Silicon Valley Organized Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force.

Investigators found evidence that suspects purchased insurance policies shortly before the alleged accident and intentionally damaged or crashed cars into other vehicles owned by co-conspirators. The owners of the vehicles contacted their insurance companies and reported the same accident details. In most cases, insurers totaled the vehicles and paying the owners the full value for their cars. Many of the vehicles were used in the scheme multiple times including an aging Pontiac used in three separate staged accidents in a single year.

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Media Notes:

  • This case is part of the Silicon Valley Organized Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force, comprised of the California Department of Insurance, California Highway Patrol (C.H.P), and Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
  • List of suspects:
    • Gerardo Ivan Espinosa Martinez, 31
    • Eva Maria Espinosa, 29
    • Juan Yepez Cruz, 32
    • Cesar Maldanado Tafoya, 41
    • Maria Ninfa Maldanado, 49
    • Victor Manuel Olivar, 29
    • Abraham Banos Melo, 37
    • Rosalba Zuniga Rangel, 43
    • Margarita Ramierez Rojas, 39
    • Daniel  Alberto Romera Cruz, 29
    • Ann Maria Nunes Hall, 68
    • Jose Be Jesus Curiel Quiroz, 40
    • Rene Garcia Gamino, 33
    • Ericka Demblewski, 41
    • Alicia Rios Salinas, 30
    • Juan Manuel Torres, 60
    • Thomas Laverne Hall, Jr., 32
    • Michelle Rosalba Hernandez Rangel, 23
  • Victim insurers include: Esurance, Progressive, Farmers, Access   Insurance, GEICO, and Kemper.

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 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.