Santa Clara County prosecutors said on Monday that 19 county residents and three out-of-county residents have been charged with auto insurance fraud after allegedly conspiring to stage 18 different auto accidents and filing almost $250,000 in fraudulent claims over a three year period. The California Department of Insurance said two brothers, Angel Topete, 36, and Joshua Topete, 34, residents of San Martin in unincorporated Santa Clara County, were the ringleaders and have both been arrested.
Prosecutors said three other suspects from outside the region are from Butte and San Benito counties. “When false claims are paid out by insurance, losses are passed along to consumers who pay hard-earned premiums to cover real accidents,” Deputy District Attorney Charlotte Chang said in a statement. Prosecutors said the false claims were often reported as a distracted driver striking a parked car. The claims totaled nearly $250,000, prosecutors said.
The largest claim was $37,723. The Department of Insurance said the claims were sent to six different insurance companies. “This large ring of family and friends allegedly conspired to defraud insurers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones in a statement. “The cost of insurance fraud is shouldered by consumers who pay higher premiums when insurers pass along their losses.
Working with our task force partners is critical in combating the multi-billion dollar problem of insurance fraud.” Prosecutors said a Farmers Insurance investigator was tipped off to a potential fraudulent claim when he investigated an insurance claim and the details of the loss and the damage to the vehicle didn’t match. In addition, prosecutors said both accidents the investigator thought were similar involved Espinosa Body Shop.
The other body shop used in the incidents was Auto Parts USA, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors said the pattern of the fraudulent claims started with insurance policies that were bought shortly before the accidents and the claims coming quickly after the accounts were opened. Espinosa’s body shop is also the center of a separate fraud investigation where 15 false claims were allegedly filed by alleged ringleader Gerardo Ivan Espinoza Martinez, who had help from 17 other people, according to prosecutors.
It’s unclear if Espinoza Martinez owns the body shop that shares one of his last names. The Department of Insurance said 18 of the 22 suspects have been arrested and booked into jail and many are due in court this week. Prosecutors said some of the defendants will be arraigned in South County Court in Morgan Hill. If the suspects are convicted, they’ll need to pay restitution to the insurance companies, prosecutors said. Prosecutors said in the past two years, four organized fraud insurance rings have been prosecuted involving 82 suspects and more than $1 million in fraudulent claims.
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