General Crime

* Insurance Fraud Suspects Face Hundreds of Charges

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A dozen suspects in an alleged Contra Costa County insurance fraud ring appeared in court in Martinez today to face nearly 300 charges including insurance fraud, grand theft and commercial burglary. Last month, a Contra Costa County grand jury indicted the fraud ring’s 22 suspects following a two-year investigation that revealed the group cheated insurance companies out of about $350,000, authorities said. On Wednesday, 17 of those suspects were arrested — including 13 Contra Costa County residents, some who are employed at Costco and Kaiser Permanente in Richmond, Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Alison Chandler said.

Police continue to search for the five outstanding suspects involved in the case. Most of the defendants were arrested in separate locations throughout the Bay Area on Wednesday, while others were apprehended as far away as Nebraska and New York. Chandler said many of the suspects arrested Wednesday worked together at Richmond branches of Kaiser Permanente and Costco, while others are related. Since 2001, the suspects allegedly submitted numerous fraudulent insurance claims affecting several large insurance companies. During that time, they staged car crashes, residential burglaries and personal injuries before submitting false insurance claims and filing police reports for the incidents, according to the district attorney’s office.

In 2009, investigators from the state insurance department, the California Highway Patrol and the district attorney’s office began investigating some of the suspicious-looking claims. After reviewing thousands of documents, interviewing dozens of witnesses and serving numerous search warrants for records, investigators determined that the mostly local group were involved in multiple insurance fraud scams. Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson said Wednesday that he believes the interagency operation may deter would-be insurance scammers in the future.

“In these tough economic times, legitimate law-abiding businesses and consumers need real protection from those seeking to scam the system which can lead to higher insurance rates and premiums that many can’t afford. We hope that interagency cooperation between law enforcement teams like the office of the district attorney and the department of insurance will lead to even more successful operations like the one we’re announcing today,” he said in a statement. The 12 defendants who appeared in court today are set to enter pleas in Martinez next Thursday.

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