33 Suspects Accused of Staging Car Wrecks to Scam Insurance Companies

Investigators say they became suspicious when they noticed an unusual number of insurance claims blaming crashes on spilled coffee.

More than 30 people in the South Bay are accused of crashing vehicles on purpose and pocketing the insurance money.

About half of the suspects were arraigned Thursday in Morgan Hill, but officials said the accidents were staged all over the Bay Area.

The massive fraud scam involved dozens of suspicious car accidents, which allegedly occurred mostly on quiet streets or parking lots, authorities said. In each case the driver claimed they crashed because they were distracted by a phone or spilled coffee.

Ten people faced a judge on Thursday afternoon, all accused of wrecking their cars for money. One person pleaded not guilty. The other cases were moved to next week and more than a dozen more arrests are expected in the next couple of days.

“The amount that was claimed by the insurance companies is almost half a million dollars,” said Charlotte Chang, a deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County.

Chang said the investigation began in 2011 when a California Highway Patrol investigator noticed a trend in insurance claims.  

The excuse for almost every crash? “I spilled my coffee on myself, which caused me to hit 1-2 parked cars,” Chang said.

Chang said all of the damaged cars were owned by people involved in the scam. In some cases, officials said, the same car was wrecked and repaired several times.

In all, 33 people are suspected in the case. So far, 14 have been arrested in Santa Clara County.

“Each false insurance claim paid out by insurance companies adds up to a large sum,” Chang said, “eventually passed along to every policyholder through higher insurance premiums.”

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