SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — Two Santa Clara County brothers are accused of being the ringleaders of an organized auto insurance fraud scam involving staged car crashes and nearly two dozen suspects.
The California Department of Insurance (CDI) said Angel Topete, 36, and Joshua Topete, 34, of San Martin were arrested on felony charges following a two-year investigation.
They are accused of running a crime ring that involved 20 other suspects in which 18 staged collisions netted the conspirators $210,000, the CDI said.
“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 press release Monday. “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.”
The arrests began last month with the arrest of Joshua Topete and other suspects, with Angel Topete turning himself in later that day, the CDI said. A total of 18 suspects were arrested over the past several weeks, while four others are still being sought. Many of those arrested are due in court this week, the CDI said.
Investigators say the Topete brothers conspired with family, friends and associates who posed as insurance consumers, filing fraudulent claims with different insurers, often using salvaged vehicles. The policyholders would intentionally crash a vehicle into other vehicles owned by co-conspirators and file claims, the CDI said. Other claims were allegedly made on collisions that never happened.
The claims resulted in insurers paying out the full value of the vehicles after they were declared total losses, the CDI said.
The case was investigated by the Silicon Valley Automobile Insurance Fraud Task Force, which includes personnel from the CDI Fraud Division, the county district attorney’s office, and the California Highway Patrol.