California Authorities Arrest 23 for Staging 125 Auto Crashes in Insurance Fraud Scheme

Twenty-three people have been arrested in what authorities claim is a California ring that staged more than 125 auto collisions and scammed about US$4 million (euro3.2 million) from insurers and drivers.

A two-year investigation led to the arrests of 20 people Thursday on multiple counts of insurance fraud, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi said.

The scam allegedly involved bogus claims of injuries and medical treatment following accidents, leading to fake insurance claims.

Three people alleged to be ringleaders, Ramon Alfonso Zanoletti, 52, his wife, Magdalena Zanoletti, 51, and chiropractor Clarence E. Franklin, 73, were arrested June 7. They also face multiple counts of insurance fraud, Garamendi said.

The Zanolettis were in custody under house arrest Thursday, and Franklin posted bail June 12, awaiting trial, said Laureen Pedroza, the case's chief investigator. It was not immediately clear if they had legal representation.

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About 600 people may have been involved in the alleged ring, and the investigation continues, said Gary Gartner, a spokesman for the insurance commissioner.

Pedroza said an arrest warrant has been out since December 2004 for a man alleged to be the principal ringleader, Constantino Guillen Pineda. Officials believe he is in South America, she said.

No one was seriously injured in the collisions, which targeted commercial vehicles, sport utility vehicles and elderly drivers, Garamendi said.

Ramon Zanoletti, who worked in an attorney's office, allegedly paid people to stage the collisions, then obtained legal representation for people claiming injuries from the accidents.

He would refer them to Franklin Chiropractic, where his wife worked as a clinic administrator, Garamendi said.

Franklin would allegedly sign off on bogus medical reports generated by Magdalena Zanoletti, who is accused of instructing patients to sign in for medical treatments that were never received. The reports were submitted to the patients' attorneys for the purpose of filing and settling fake insurance claims, Garamendi said.

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