The Contra Costa County district attorney's office charged 22 people in an indictment for staged collisions and insurance fraud claims on Tuesday. The indictment alleges over $500,000 in losses to victims through 20 convicted conspirators and two civil compromises.
Opening statements in the case were set to start April 17, where District Attorney Mark Peterson would bring 61 felony counts of grand theft, insurance fraud and conspiracy against the scheme's ringleader Kelechi Chukwueke. Instead, Chukwueke pleaded guilty to 12 felonies, including conspiracy and insurance fraud that arose out of nine staged automobile collisions and nine staged auto and residential burglary theft related claims.
Chukwueke will serve seven years in prison and be required to pay restitution to the victims and a $100,000 fine. Chukwueke, along with 20 of the 22 original defendants, who reside in Hercules, Antioch, Richmond, Brentwood and Solano County, have resolved their cases. Vivian Obi and Damon Rowden resolved their cases with the victims' insurance companies.
The fraudulent claims were filed between June 2002 and May 2010, and The 21 other defendants were indicted on 289 felony counts of insurance fraud, grand theft, burglary and conspiracy on Sept. 22, 2011. The indictments and convictions were a result of a nearly three-year investigation by the California Department of Insurance Fraud Division, the California Highway Patrol, National Insurance Crime Bureau, various police departments, the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office and the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office.
"The commitment of local and state law enforcement agencies allow for conspiracies such as this to be discovered and successfully prosecuted in Contra Costa County," said Deputy District Attorney Alison Chandler. "The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office thanks the agencies for their commitment, hard work, and dedication because without them, these criminals would never have been brought to justice."
Law enforcement officers served dozens of search warrant that recovered expensive electronics, diamond rings, over $60,000 and other valuables. In addition, over $35,000 of restitution money has been collected from coconspirators to pay back victim insurance companies. This is believed to be one of the largest criminal insurance fraud conspiracies in Contra Costa County history, a release from the Contra Costa D.A.'s office stated.
Through a review of hundreds of suspect insurance claims and interviews with witnesses across the country, detectives determined that the coconspirators were staging vehicle collisions as well as residential and auto burglaries then submitting false documents in support of the claims. Fraudulent claims included falsified police reports, traffic collision reports, personal injury claims and vandalism claims.
Defendants Bede and Paul Onwuvuariri, and Kelechi Chukwueke were the most heavily involved in the conspiracy, masterminding over 33 claims and that netted more than $300,000. Detectives learned that these individuals threatened and manipulated many other coconspirators, forcing their participation and silence during the conspiracy. The Onwuvuariris will each serve three years in prison. Other defendants listed below each received a county jail sentence with probation and restitution:
- Audra Gist
- Tasha Coleman
- Chaynia Wilson
- Mechell Howard
- Vonda Stallworth
- Evelyn Nwansi
- John Michael Goodnews Ononaji
- Chukwunedum Amajoiyi
- Pamela Faith
- Amor Olivan
- Vivian Anyanwu
- Anthony Onwuvuariri
- Sylvester Onwuvuariri
- Eberechukwu Sonoiki
- Aimee Kimfuema
- Shuntay Rhoades
- Phillip Davis
This is an ongoing investigation as officials continue to determine the total amount of loss to the insurance industry, which is estimated at over $500,0000. Investigators have received assistance from victim insurance companies including Geico, Allstate, State Farm, Balboa, Homesite, Progressive, VESTA Insurance, Republic Western, AIG and Farmers as well as the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Anyone with additional information is encouraged to call the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office at 957-8604 or visit www.insurance.ca.gov.