Seventeen other defendants arraigned in San Diego, Calif. $ 822,000 Auto insurance fraud network organized
A total of 32 defendants charged or prosecuted in Operation Dealer’s Choice investigation
July 19, 2021 – SAN DIEGO, California – Seventeen other defendants have been brought to justice for their alleged involvement in an organized auto insurance fraud ring where dealerships bought damaged vehicles vehicles, then filed inflated claims and even organized thefts, which cost insurers a loss of approximately $ 822,000. Four people have already been convicted 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 Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force, which consists of the California Department of Insurance, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office and the California Highway Patrol.
Operation Dealer’s Choice began after the San Diego District Attorney’s Office received a call from consumers claiming the Ring was buying vehicles at local auto auctions and filing fraudulent claims for total damage or theft in order to receive unearned payments from insurance companies.
“Through the hard work of our multi-agency task force, we are eliminating this organized fraud network and protecting consumers who shouldn’t have to pay the cost of bogus and bloated auto insurance claims,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.
The investigation determined that the Ring had purchased vehicles at auction that were already damaged, had high mileage, or both, at a significantly reduced cost. After the vehicle was purchased, registered and insured by a transporter, the suspects filed a claim for total damage or total theft and the ring shared the profits.
“Involving businesses in inflated payments for insurance claims hurts consumers because ultimately the cost is passed on to them” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “This investigation started with our office and demonstrates the power of the multi-agency task force to hold accountable those who were part of this fraud ring.”
Investigators found that 45 fraudulent auto insurance claims had been filed over a four-year period, involving around 56 vehicles. The odometer mileage of the vehicles purchased by the suspects in this case has been “reduced” in order to increase the value of the vehicle before it was damaged or declared stolen. Other vehicles sustained significant damage before being insured that were not disclosed to the carrier, or are suspected of having been damaged by the group after being insured.
Investigators believe members of the network staged collisions in which they would deliberately damage vehicles to the point of total loss in order to collect an insurance check for the damage. The suspects also organized thefts to obtain insurance compensation. In some cases, suspects have filed claims soon after taking out an insurance policy, collecting a check for their reported loss, and then letting the policy expire without paying the premium.
The ring victimized 12 insurance companies, 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 pursuing this case.
Defendants who have been convicted:
- Michael Cusi Jr., 34, 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 Jan. 14, 2021 to 180 days in custody, two years of formal probation and 160 hours of community service.
- Daniel Santos, 64, San Diego – Sentenced July 13, 2020, to five years in prison, 30 months of mandatory supervision and to pay $ 140,017 in restitution.
- Felipe Cardona Villareal, 27, of Tampa, Florida – Sentenced Jan. 14, 2021 to 180 days in custody, two years of formal probation and 160 hours of community service.
The defendants indicted:
- James Cabal, 32, from 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, from Tijuana, Mexico
- Jackalynn Gutierrez-Herrera, 20, of San Diego
- Malive Parker, 28, from Lemon Grove
- Araceli Perez, 27, of San Diego
- Cashalerie Sanchez, 26, from 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, from Tijuana, Mexico
- Vincent Rodriguez, 25, from Chula Vista
- Jayson Muncal, 32, of San Diego
Additional suspects who have been charged:
- Luis Cardona Jr., 27, of National City
- Jesus Herrera, 36, from Spring Valley
- Betsy Guadalupe Matteoti, 37, of San Diego
- Jessica Herrera, 38, from Imperial Beach
- Ramon De Jesus Hernandez, 58, of San Diego
- Francisco Javier Rodriguez, 34, from Chula Vista
- Martin Urquidez-Perez, 22, from Mesa, Arizona
- Art Deleon, 55, from San Diego
- Luis Alberto Velasco, 25, from San Diego
- Julio Mojica Jr., 26, from San Diego
- Juan Carlos Quinonez-Arreola, 31, San Diego