General Crime

* Kelechi Chukwueke and Other Members of Massive Insurance Fraud Ring Sentenced in Martinez

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Twenty people convicted on conspiracy and insurance fraud charges stemming from their involvement in a nearly decade-long Bay Area-wide insurance fraud ring have been sentenced in Contra Costa County Superior Court, according to the district attorney’s office. Kelechi Chukwueke, 35, of Hercules, was the operation’s ringleader and the last of the group to be sentenced after pleading guilty to 12 felonies Monday, including conspiracy, fraud, grand theft and burglary.

He received a seven-year prison term, and ordered¬† to pay restitution to victims and a $100,000 fine, attorneys said. The Hercules man teamed with brothers Bede and Paul Onwuvuariri to mastermind a series of scams in which they staged car crashes, home burglaries and personal injuries and cashed in fake insurance claims that cost companies an estimated $500,000 over about eight years, according to the district attorney’s office. The brothers were both sentenced to three years in prison for their heavy involvement in the fraud ring, prosecutors said.

Deputy District Attorney Alison Chandler said the three men pressured many of their co-defendants, including low-income women they were dating, to participate in the conspiracy, threatening and manipulating them to keep quiet about the scams. The remaining 17 defendants received county jail sentences ranging from several days to several months, along with probation time and restitution penalties to victims, Chandler said.

Two additional defendants resolved their cases in civil court with the insurance companies they defrauded. The fraud ring defendants, who are mostly Bay Area residents, were arrested last fall after a grand jury indictment and a three-year investigation by the California Department of Insurance, the California Highway Patrol, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and several Bay Area police departments. During searches of suspects’ homes, police found more than $60,000 in cash as well as expensive electronics, jewelry and other valuables.

So far, the suspects have been made to pay $35,000 in restitution to the insurance companies they scammed, attorneys said. “The commitment of local and state law enforcement agencies allow for conspiracies such as this to be discovered and successfully prosecuted in Contra Costa County,” Chandler said in a statement. “The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office thanks the agencies for their commitment, hard work and dedication because without them, these criminals would never have been brought to justice.”

The fraud ring is believed to be one of the largest criminal insurance fraud conspiracies in the county’s history, according to the district attorney’s office. Investigators continue to probe some of the fraud ring’s unresolved claims and conspiracies. “There will be a Phase Two of this investigation,” Chandler said.

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