Insurance agent sentenced for stealing $174,000 in insurance premiums from truck drivers and charter bus companies
News: 2020 Press Release
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Connie Free, 34, of Moreno Valley, was sentenced today to 22 felony counts and one misdemeanor count including grand theft and forgery after stealing at least $174,000 in insurance premiums from 11 different victims. Free received a five-year sentence requiring 180 days in jail, 180 days in work release and the remainder of her sentence on felony probation. Free’s sentencing also includes an order for restitution to her victims. Free was ordered to return to court on February 21, 2020, for a restitution hearing, after which she is expected to surrender and begin her sentence.
The former insurance agent targeted port truck drivers who lost their operator authority as a result of not having insurance. After receiving consumer complaints, the California Department of Insurance launched an investigation, which revealed Free, acting as “Justyce Insurance” or “Pure Justyce Insurance Agency” accepted premium payments from her victims and failed to remit payments to insurance carriers, instead converting the payments for her own use. Between September 2017 and July 2018, at least seven victims paid Free for coverage that was not placed with an insurer.
"This agent robbed truck drivers who already have some of America’s hardest jobs,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “This unlicensed agent not only stole from her clients, she put them at risk of losing their livelihood. Thanks to the hard work of Department of Insurance investigators and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office she will now have to pay restitution to those she harmed.”
As Senator, Commissioner Lara authored SB 1402 to crack down on wage theft and labor violations against California’s 25,000 port truck drivers who haul goods for the nation’s largest companies.
The investigation found Free would establish contact with her victims by soliciting them through telephone, email or a postcard offering competitive quotes with attractive rates on commercial vehicle insurance. Free would then gather the victim’s vehicle information, provide a quote for the desired coverage, and if accepted, have the victim make a cash payment directly into her bank account, so she could pay the carrier to immediately establish a policy for them. Some victims received fraudulent Certificates of Insurance and Insurance Identification Cards which made them believe Free actually placed their insurance coverage.
Free’s victims were primarily truck drivers and small businesses in the trucking or charter bus industry. Some of Free’s victims discovered that their “authority” to operate as a motor carrier was suspended by reviewing their own status on either the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or Uniform Intermodal Interchange and Facilities Access Agreement (UIIA) websites.
In some cases, these victims were turned away when attempting to haul loads from or return chassis to port terminals or service client sites. Other victims had to decline jobs after learning Free failed to place coverage. These victims were forced to find and pay for other policies to meet the coverage requirements that would allow them to resume their businesses, causing them to incur losses over and above the premium amounts provided to Free for nonexistent policies. Free failed to provide refunds, and in most circumstances refused to even respond to inquiries made by her victims.
This case was prosecuted by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. The Department of Insurance has issued an order to permanently revoke Free’s insurance, which was suspended in 2018.
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Led by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, the California Department of Insurance is the consumer protection agency for the nation's largest insurance marketplace and safeguards all of the state’s consumers by fairly regulating the insurance industry. Under the Commissioner’s direction, the Department uses its authority to protect Californians from insurance rates that are excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory, oversee insurer solvency to pay claims, set standards for agents and broker licensing, perform market conduct reviews of insurance companies, resolve consumer complaints, and investigate and prosecute insurance fraud. Consumers are urged to call 1-800-927-4357 with any questions or contact us at www.insurance.ca.gov via webform or online chat. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357. Teletypewriter (TTY), please dial 800-482-4833.