Saturday, April 4, 2009

Auto Insurance Fraud: Attorney Commentary On Increased Number Of Cases And Effect Of Economic Pressure

The economy is pushing some people over the edge. We are seeing that as times get tougher people of all economic backgrounds are engaging in acts they normally wouldn't commit. For example, there is an increase in people abandoning, torching or damaging their own vehicles to collect insurance or to avoid payments. In other cases, people are submitting claims for auto accidents in which did not occur. This type of conduct is a crime and most false claims can be prosecuted as a felony. Further, insurance claim forms are often signed under the penalty of perjury.

In California, there is funding at the county District Attorney's Offices for these cases -- which makes prosecution more likely. Under the direction of the Insurance Commissioner, the California Department of Insurance makes funds available, as authorized by Section 18971 of the California Insurance Code, to the District Attorney’s Office for investigation and prosecution of automobile insurance fraud. The DA's Offices apply for grants and they are able to use these funds to pay for experienced prosecutors.

Here are four recent cases from the past month involving these types of false insurance claims. Remember that complaints contain only allegations against an individual and all defendants must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

■ On April 1, 2009, Anthony Razo, a former Los Angeles police officer was accused of torching his 2005 BMW 745 Li, then reporting it stolen and filing insurance claim for the loss in January 2009. Mr. Razo was charged by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in Case No. BA 354733 with five felony counts and two misdemeanors. The felony counts of insurance fraud, defrauding an insurer and arson on one’s own property pertained to the BMW.

■ On April 1, 2009, Teresa Turbyfill was charged with auto insurance fraud by the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office. According to the complaint, in November 2008, Turbyfill's husband left the scene of a collision after a hit and run accident in his 2005 Cadillac. He subsequently reported to the Morongo Sheriff's Office that he had been carjacked prior to the hit and run, and that his 2005 Cadillac had later been burned by the suspects and
destroyed in the fire. Teresa Turbyfill allegedly filed an insurance claim listing the vehicle as a total loss due to the arson. The complaint alleges that she did this even after having complete knowledge of her husband's alleged actions.

■ On or about March 27, 2009, Nick Alan Thompson was charged by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office after an auto insurance fraud investigation. The complaint alleges that the owner of a 2007 Suzuki GSX600 motorcycle reported it as stolen for the purpose of insurance fraud. The motorcycle was allegedly given to Thompson so he could dispose of the motorcycle. The motorcycle was found in Thompson’s garage. Thompson was charged, booked and bail was set at $50,000.

■ On February 23, 2009, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office filed felony insurance fraud charges against Paul Fiedler of Pomona. The complaint alleges that in October 2007, Fiedler was involved in a minor traffic accident in the City of Ontario. The police were not called and both parties exchanged information. At the time of the accident, Fiedler had a $1,000 deductible for collision repair to his vehicle on his Geico auto insurance policy. On the day of the accident, he went online to the Geico Insurance website and made a policy adjustment on his $1,000 deductible for collision and changed it to a $150 deductible for collision.

The next day, he again went on the Geico Insurance website and filed an online accident claim, indicating that the accident had occurred on October 26, instead of October 25. He also contacted the other driver, in an attempt to convince him to give a false statement to Geico regarding the date of the accident. The other driver refused to take part in changing the date of the accident and so advised Geico. Fiedler was arrested at his place of business, where he worked as a loss prevention officer. He was booked into custody and bail was set at $25,000.

Attorney Commentary: For those who have filed false claims, the best time to craft a defense is prior to the filing of charges. There are many tactics and strategies that can be done to help unwind bad decisions. Although only a small percentage of false claims are prosecuted, there is no way to know which ones will be prosecuted. We see cases involving smaller dollar amounts being prosecuted. This is especially true with insurance claims since the carriers and NICB will do most of the work in investigating and putting together the prosecution package and evidence for law enforcement.

If you have filed a false claim, have been served with a search warrant or know the claim has been assigned to the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the carrier, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. The best advice is for you not to speak with any investigator (police or insurance) until you have retained counsel and created a strategy on how to handle the matter. Waiting until you are arrested is not the best time to create a strategy.

We see investigators taking arrested defendants to their office and interview them in order to obtain quick confessions. People think that this will help them when all it usually does is create a better case for the prosecution. There are times when cooperation makes sense but it is not after arrest when there is no type of immunity or cooperation agreement in place.

Posted by Tracy Green, Esq.  Any questions should be directed to Tracy Green, a very experienced Los Angeles insurance fraud attorney and Los Angeles fraud attorney. You can email her at or call her at 213-233-2261.

The firm focuses its practice on the representation of licensed professionals and businesses in civil, business, administrative and criminal proceedings. They have a specialty in representing professionals in criminal matters, including automobile insurance fraud, insurance fraud and other financial crimes in California and throughout the country. Their website is:


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