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O.C. sting operation targets auto body shops [Updated]

June 3, 2010 |  5:23 pm

A sting targeting auto body repair shops in Orange County ended in the arrest of 53 mechanics Wednesday and Thursday, including Richard Evans, who once appeared on the Speed Channel reality show "Chop Cut Rebuild."

Evans owns Huntington Beach Bodyworks. 

The Orange County district attorney's office conducted 152 covert investigations from January to May in "Operation Straight Body," which targeted repair shops that had received consumer complaints over the last three years, authorities said.

Investigators used several methods to conduct their sting. In some cases, they obtained a car determined by an insurance company to be totaled after sustaining rear-end damage in a collision, with its rear bumper missing and the rear frame rails bent. They then backed the car into a telephone pole, causing a dent in the rear hatch.

They took the car to one of the targeted auto body shops and asked for an estimate to repair the damage. The undercover agent explained the vehicle had been bought without a bumper and asked that it and the damaged frame be repaired under the same insurance claim — even though the bumper was missing at the time of purchase.

The suspect mechanics agreed to include the damages under one insurance estimate, authorities said. Each mechanic was charged with one felony count of insurance fraud, prosecutors said.

If convicted, they face a maximum five years in state prison, prosecutors said.

They were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday and Friday at the central jail in Santa Ana, said officials in the D.A.'s office. Bail was set at $30,000 each.

"Insurance fraud hurts every Orange County family because insurance companies pass on the cost of fraud to their customers,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said in a statement.

[Corrected at 5:22 p.m.: An earlier version of this post and the headline said Richard Evans hosted the reality show. He appeared in one segment of the show.]

-- Ann M. Simmons