Coachella Valley Region
Seven people were arrested Tuesday in connection with an alleged auto insurance fraud scheme involving more than a half-million dollars in alleged fraudulent payouts to seven Coachella Valley body shops.
The seven were among 40 people charged by the District Attorney’s Office for their alleged involvement in securing $560,492 in payouts, stemming from up to 40 false insurance claims made for car crashes that were either staged or never happened, according to D.A.’s spokesman John Hall.
Body shops involved in the scheme were Tiger Auto Collision Center in Indio, Supreme Auto Collision in Indio, Diamond Auto Body in Indio, All Valley Auto Body in Desert Hot Springs, Ferrari Auto Collision in Indio, 760 Auto Collision in Indio and Superior Auto Body in Indio.
The suspects arrested by investigators from the California Department of Insurance and the Urban Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force during “Operation
Names of the people arrested:
— Isaac Espinoza Villa, 30, of Indio;
— Luz Virgin, 42, of Indio;
— Samuel Salvador Gomez, 42, of Indio;
— Moises Saldana Paredes, 27, of Coachella;
— Mauricio Lopez-Castro, 29, of Coachella;
— Jose Manuel Luna, 50, of Palm Desert; and
— Erika Feliz, 36, of Indio.
Another 22 suspects are expected to surrender soon, while 11 remain at large, according to the Department of Insurance. “Insurance fraud schemes like this one steal from our local communities in the form of higher premiums,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “The insurance fraud perpetrated by these defendants is alleged to have caused a loss of more than $500,000, a cost that ultimately is passed on to consumers. We have to do everything that can be done to stop these criminals from defrauding the public.”
According to the District Attorney’s Office, the body shop owners worked with employees and family members posing as insurance consumers, who filed the false claims.
The fraud was first brought to light in 2014, when Department of Insurance investigators received information regarding the scheme during a bust of suspects running a similar crime ring.
“This was an elaborate conspiracy to rip off insurers to the tune of nearly a half a million dollars,” Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said. “Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime. The cost of fraud is shouldered by consumers who pay higher premiums when insurers pass along their losses. The task force is a critical tool in combating the multibillion-dollar problem of insurance fraud.”