The owner of an auto body shop in Indio has been arrested for insurance fraud after an investigation revealed 16 false insurance claims totaling $314,000 in losses to seven different auto insurance companies.
Joel Saldana Paredes, 22, owns Lightning Auto Body and police said he organized the scheme. He was among 13 people arrested as of June, 25.
The California Department of Insurance first heard about the possible fraudulent activity in early 2013, launching an investigation.
Investigators said Paredes reportedly recruited some friends and family members to pose as insured customers, and for as little as $500, file claims for traffic accidents that were either staged or never happened at all.
Authorities said these 16 ‘phantom’ accidents were all reported in the Coachella Valley.
Paredes has been charged with 16 felony counts of insurance fraud. The other defendants who were arrested have also been charged with various crimes by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Authorities said Paredes’ auto body shop stopped doing business earlier this year.
Investigators with the DA’s office, the state Department of Insurance, and deputies with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department were all involved in the June 25 sweep. The investigation found that Saldana recruited some friends and family members to pose as insured customers and, for as little as a $500 bounty, file claims for traffic accidents that were either staged or never happened at all —known as “phantom” accidents, according to Hall. All of the staged or phantom accidents were reported in the Coachella Valley.