Modesto Man Pleads Guilty to Staging Car Accidents in a Scheme to Defraud Insurance Companies
FRESNO, Calif. — Victor Hugo Soriano-Villafan, 26, of Modesto, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in a scheme to defraud insurance companies, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, from October 2011 until August 2014, Soriano-Villafan conspired with at least six other individuals to stage dozens of car accidents and submit false claims seeking compensation for the damage caused by the staged accidents. As part of the scheme, the defendants would often offer to repair the recruited individual’s vehicle at automobile repair shops that Soriano-Villafan or a co-defendant owned, usually with less-than-complete repair work, and for a fee that was less than the payment from the insurance company. In all, Soriano-Villafan caused at least $750,000 in false insurance claims to be paid as a result of the conspiracy to defraud.
In each staged accident, Soriano-Villafan and other defendants used two or three vehicles and caused about $5,000 to $10,000 in damage to each vehicle. After each staged collision, the defendants submitted cover stories to the insurer that concealed the true cause of the accident. The cover story would commonly use aliases, false identities, and false addresses when describing the defendants. The defendants also used different vehicles in the staged collisions. They were able to do this by obtaining many different vehicles and using false identities to both register the vehicles with the Department of Motor Vehicles and obtain insurance policies for the vehicles. The defendants did this to avoid scrutiny by the insurer that reviewed the false claims. The defendants repeated the scheme in dozens of crashes by recruiting other individuals to participate in the staged collisions. These individuals would allow their vehicles to be damaged and would submit their own claim for damages. In many instances, false claims were submitted to the recruited individual’s insurance company.
This case is the product of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the California Department of Insurance, Fraud Division. Assistant United States Attorneys Patrick R. Delahunty and Henry Z. Carbajal III are prosecuting the case.
Soriano-Villafan is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on January 30, 2017. Soriano-Villafan faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
Charges are pending against co-defendants Juan Ortiz Rivas, 39, of Ceres; Liobigildo Vargas, 46, of Turlock; and, Juan Marquez Cadenas, 30, of Patterson. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.