Auto insurance appraiser Prosecutors asserted that Erwin Mejia (not pictured) often inflated the damage to the cars in his estimates and even wrote estimates for cars that were not actually damaged. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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An auto insurance appraiser in California has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his involvement in a staged collision ring.

Erwin Raul Mejia, of Van Nuys, California, previously was convicted on 10 felony counts of insurance fraud for his role in the fraud, which bilked insurers out of more than $700,000.

Mejia also was ordered to pay $699,784 in restitution to six auto insurers, including over $420,000 to Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.

‘We will find you’

“This is a significant conviction and sentence on an insurance fraud case and it sends an important message to those who commit fraud — we will find you and you will be prosecuted,” said the state’s insurance commissioner, Dave Jones.

According to prosecutors, Mejia worked as a material damage appraiser for Nationwide, where he inspected damaged vehicles, prepared repair estimates, and issued checks to claimants for their damaged cars.

Collisions never occurred or vehicles intentionally damaged

An investigation by the California Department of Insurance, which led to Mejia’s arrest in October 2017, revealed that Mejia and additional suspects orchestrated an elaborate scheme to defraud insurers with paper collisions that never occurred or by intentionally damaging vehicles to submit fraudulent claims.

Prosecutors asserted that Mejia often inflated the damage to the cars in his estimates and even wrote estimates for cars that were not actually damaged. The government contended that Mejia and a “capper” recruited people to insure vehicles and make fraudulent claims, resulting in 70 fraudulent claims.

After leaving Nationwide, Mejia worked as a claims adjuster at MetLife Insurance in Nevada where, the government said, he continued his scheme adjusting known fraudulent claims. Mejia issued settlement checks to claimants that were redirected to a friend in Los Angeles who was cashing the checks, the government said.

According to the government, additional victim insurers included State Farm, Wawanesa, and Mercury.

Steven A. Meyerowitz, Esq., (smeyerowitz@meyerowitzcommunications.com) is director of FC&S Legal, editor-in-chief of Insurance Coverage Law Report, and founder and president of Meyerowitz Communications Inc.

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