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Press Release

Stockton Man Pleads Guilty to Staging Car Accidents in a Scheme to Defraud Insurance Companies

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

FRESNO, Calif. — Cristopher Santiago Sanchez-Becerra, 32, of Stockton, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and admitted that he staged car accidents in a scheme to defraud insurance companies, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, from at least October 2011 until August 2014, Sanchez-Becerra 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. Commonly, the defendants would also offer to repair the recruited individual’s vehicle at automobile repair shops that Sanchez-Becerra or a co-defendant owned, usually with less-than-complete repair work, for a fee less than the payment from an insurance company. In all, Sanchez-Becerra caused at least $210,000 in false insurance claims to be paid as a result of the conspiracy to defraud.

In each staged accident, Sanchez-Becerra and other defendants utilized two or three vehicles and caused about $5,000 to $10,000 in damage to each vehicle. After each staged collision, the defendants submitted a similar cover story to an 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 commonly 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 operated in this manner to avoid scrutiny by an insurer that reviewed the false claims regarding a staged accident.

The indictment further alleges that Sanchez-Becerra and other defendants were able to repeat 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 submit their own claim for damages. In many instances, false claims were submitted to the recruited individual’s insurance company.

“Fraud schemes like the one uncovered in this case are growing at an alarming rate, and unfortunately it’s consumers who ultimately pay the price,” said Ryan Spradlin, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. “As this probe makes clear, HSI is committed to working with its law enforcement partners to target those who seek to game the system for their own enrichment and ensure they’re held accountable for their crimes.”

“California is ground zero for auto insurance fraud,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “Sanchez-Becerra's million-dollar conspiracy to rip-off insurers victimizes California consumers who end up paying for auto fraud losses through higher insurance premiums.”

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.

Sanchez-Becerra is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on November 28, 2016. Sanchez-Becerra 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; Oscar Diaz Landa, 46, of San Jose; Victor Hugo Soriano-Villafan, 26, of Modesto; Liobigildo Vargas, 46, of Turlock; Juan Marquez Cadenas, 30, of Patterson; and Alfonso Apu, 47, of Modesto. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Updated September 6, 2016

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 1:15-cr-233 DAD