Attorney General Laxalt Announces 5 Guilty Pleas in Staged-Accident Insurance Fraud Ring Involving 24 Defendants and 68 Felony Counts

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February 8, 2018

Las Vegas, NV – Today, Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt announced that five defendants, previously charged in a 24 defendant staged-accident insurance fraud ring, each pleaded guilty in court this morning to one count of insurance fraud, a category “D” felony. The defendants include: Arlene Manuela Hernandez, 25, of Las Vegas; Lemay Oliver Monzon, 29, of Las Vegas; Anthony Robles, 19, of Las Vegas; Jessica Valdes Tarrio, 27, of Las Vegas; and Yelandis Penichet Vargas, 32, of Las Vegas.

In September of 2017, these defendants, along with 19 others, were indicted by a Clark County Grand Jury on 68 felony counts. The indictment represents the largest multi-defendant indictment in Nevada Attorney General history. As alleged in the original indictment, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to stage no less than 19 automobile accidents and four thefts with the intent of fraudulently obtaining insurance benefits. Each defendant played a different role in the conspiracy. Some defendants are alleged to have provided the automobiles used to stage the accidents and thefts, driven the automobiles causing the accidents, or participated as a passenger, while others are alleged to have falsely claimed to have been the driver or passenger in order to maximize any insurance payout. In total, the defendants filed 23 fraudulent insurance claims related to these accidents and thefts.

After securing the largest multi-defendant indictment in the history of this office, members of my Insurance Fraud Unit have been working diligently to obtain justice and to deter others from engaging in similar conduct,” said Laxalt. “I’m proud of their efforts to pursue this complex scheme and others like it which pose a serious threat of injury or death to innocent victims.”

The terms of the plea agreements reached with these five defendants reflect their relative culpability in relation to the overall scheme, as well as their early acceptance of responsibility for their actions. As to the other 12 defendants who have appeared in this matter, a trial is scheduled to commence on November 13, 2018. The Eighth Judicial District Court has issued arrest warrants for the remaining seven defendants, many of whom are suspected to have fled the country after learning that they were suspects in this case. The following defendants remain at large: Leandro Fonseca, Jose de Jesus Nunez-Badillo, Erick Garci-Garcia, Irma Yolanda Meraz-Rangel, Jesus Nunez Aranda, Eloisa Badillo Esparza, and Anilu Vianey Gonzalez. To report information regarding their whereabouts, please call 702-486-3214.

Insurance fraud is punishable by up to four years of imprisonment and a fine of no more than $5,000. The sentencing hearings for these defendants are scheduled for May 17, 2018 in the Eighth Judicial District Court.

In an effort to combat fraud and to avoid being victimized by a staged accident, the Office of the Nevada Attorney General encourages all Nevadans to be especially wary of the known types of staged automobile accidents:

  • Swoop and Squat – A driver causes an intentional and unavoidable rear-end collision by abruptly entering the lane in front of the victim, cutting the victim off, pulling in front of the victim, and forcing the victim to break suddenly. Oftentimes, this staged accident would include two separate automobiles where one driver would pull in front of a co-conspirator’s automobile and brake suddenly for no legitimate reason, giving his co-conspirator cause to also brake suddenly.

  • Drive Down - While an unsuspecting victim attempts to merge onto a freeway, a driver in the adjacent lane directs the victim forward with a hand motion, then deliberately crashes into their automobile and blames the victim for the collision.

  • Sideswipe - The victim is in a dual-turn left lane and unintentionally veers the vehicle into the adjacent lane for a few seconds. The driver in the adjacent lane then sideswipes the victim, and subsequently accuses the victim of driving recklessly.

  • Panic Stop – A driver, typically driving an older vehicle filled with passengers, will position his/her car in front of the victims while a backseat passenger waits until the innocent motorist gets distracted, such as by a cell phone call. At that point, the driver will slam on the brakes, causing the motorist to rear end the criminal’s vehicle.

Drivers are encouraged to be wary of how many occupants are in and around the automobile at the time of the crash and thereafter. Drivers should also be aware of their surroundings and note whether additional people show up to the scene who claim to have been involved in the accident. Oftentimes, these individuals also file insurance claims. If you are involved in an automobile accident, you are encouraged to document any damage to your vehicle with a camera. Victims are also encouraged to document and photograph the driver or drivers involved, all passengers involved, as well as driver licenses and insurance card information. Those who stage these accidents oftentimes use multiple identification cards with aliases.

Drivers who believe they are victims of a staged collision should report their suspicions to their respective insurance companies. For more information on staged automobile accidents, visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s website at https://www.nicb.org/.

An indictment is merely a charging document; every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

This case was investigated and is being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Unit. This Unit partnered with several insurance companies during the investigation and prosecution of this case. The amended indictments against the defendants are attached.

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