Joel Paredes Saldana, 22, owner of Lightning Auto Body in Riverside County, was arrested Wednesday as Department of Insurance detectives and multiple allied agencies swept up at least 20 co-conspirators associated with an organized insurance fraud crime ring. Those arrested will face multiple felony charges that include grand theft, knowingly filing a fraudulent insurance claim, and conspiracy.
"This orchestrated phantom collision ring contributes to the multi-billion dollar drain on California's economy due to insurance fraud," said Commissioner Jones. "This is not a victimless crime. The cost of insurance fraud is borne by consumers who pay for it through higher premiums. Southern California is the auto fraud capitol of the nation. Our detectives and law enforcement partners are dedicated to shutting down these scams and arresting those participating in these complex crime rings."
Investigators from the Department of Insurance initially received information about the crime ring in 2013, when insurers recognized a pattern to Saldana's and his co-conspirators' insurance claims. Investigators allege that Saldana recruited friends and family members to pose as insurance consumers and, for a $500 bounty, file claims for collisions that were either staged or didn't occur at all. As the ringleader, Saldana allegedly engineered an elaborate crime ring that staged up to 16 false insurance claims to receive a payout of over $314,000 from seven different insurance companies.
On June 25, 2014, following the department's investigation, a multiagency enforcement sweep found and arrested Saldana and various co-conspirators on multiple charges, including felony insurance fraud.