3 arrested in insurance fraud scheme that intentionally damaged cars near Salinas
SALINAS (BCN) — Three men were arrested Thursday in connection with an insurance fraud scheme that intentionally damaged dozens of cars at auto repair shops in and around Salinas, according to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office.
David Ramirez, 48, Perry Hall, 56, and Martin Lopez, 47, were arrested without incident for their roles in “scratch out” schemes, Deputy Arras Wilson said.
The men are suspected of conspiracy to commit a crime, insurance fraud and other alleged crimes, Wilson said.
Family members, friends and other associates participating in the scheme would bring their undamaged cars to the shops, where they would be instructed on how to damage the vehicles based on the value, Wilson said.
The suspected vandalism would take place offsite and returned to the shop, where workers would file insurance claims and spilt the money received back for repairs with the car owner, according to Wilson.
The damage included scratches and dents, in some cases gave the appearance that the car was sideswiped, Wilson said.
The auto body shops would keep some of the money from the insurance companies as profit, he said.
The three men were taken into custody after warrants were served at Universal Automotive on Murphy Street and West Market Auto Body on Market Street, sheriff’s officials said.
Ramirez and Hall are owners of Universal Automotive and Lopez owns West Market Auto Body, Wilson said.
Universal Automotive is suspected of carrying out the most scratch off frauds compared to the other 11 auto body shops believed to be part of the schemes, Wilson said.
Some of the impacted companies include Progressive Corporation, Allstate Corporation, Farmers Insurance Group and State Farm Insurance, according to Wilson.
The amount lost by the major insurance companies victimized in the scheme is estimated at $1 million, according to Wilson.
Investigators learned about the alleged scheme through an insurance company who notified them of “highly suspicious” claims filed by a shop owner, who was not named, on probation for similar fraud crimes, Wilson said.
The false claims have led to increased rates for insurance holders in the Salinas area, according to Wilson.
The arrests were a result of months-long undercover operations by the sheriff’s Multi-Agency Detail Commercial Auto Theft Task Force and Monterey County District Attorney’s Auto Fraud Unit, sheriff’s officials said.
The investigation into the schemes has lasted a year and the task force anticipates serving more warrants, Wilson said.