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

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

 
Comments () | Archives (23)

Good!

This seems like a lot of effort and money to catch a relatively modest crime sting.

Oops

Consider a few things before judging these guys. I'd guess if someone showed up with a damaged car that didn't have a bumper to begin with, this person basically looks poor. Did you ever buy a car without a bumper? Could you feel sorry for someone who did? I'd think about it a couple of times--here's a guy that couldn't afford an entire car, and you could fix the whole thing and pass the bill onto the insurance companies--most of which make tons of cash charging what amount to criminal rates. Ever read Robin Hood? I'd slap them on the wrist and let them go. Hey--what about gangs, drugs, murder, stolen cars? I want my tax dollars directed to these issues. Congrats, sting team, you've gotten a guy helping out poor folk off the streets. Sorry, but I'm on their side.

Why not catch them doing real crimes and not set up crimes that are make-believe?

So this is what cops are wasting time doing?

Jaywalking is a crime in California, but you could offer anyone $5 million to jaywalk and THEY WOULD!

A more sensible sting would simply honor the two honest auto mechanics in the United States. It's safe to assume the others are thieves.

Hey Tony, nice going! Its called entrapment you moron.. Stop WASTING the tax payers money by focusing on these small bullshit kind of "crimes" that you instigate.. We all know the DA's office is all about wins and losses and not actual justice. Your behavior this election year has been a joke and its quite obvious what you are trying to do. The Toyota lawsuit was one of the biggest bullshit waste of taxpayer dollars there ever was.. Yep, you are sooooo concerned for us residents.. please.. Do everyone a favor and go away. Get someone who knows how to focus on the issues and criminals that are truly worth going after.

Doh!!!

Yes, insurance fraud hurts everyone one but it goes both ways. Is anyone investigating the insurance industry, auto and others, to see how many legitimate claims are denied by deceit, delay, and deception on the part of the insurance companies?

Insurance fraud, really? Sound more like customer service. That act is hardly worth a felony count. When are the "authorities" going to go after the insurance companies for insurance fraud with their outlandish rates?

He appeared in a segment of Chop, Cut, Rebuild FIVE years ago ... somebody really didn't do their job as a reporter here as original headline positioned him as "host" ... a simple phone call by the reporter could have helped with relevant and timely (and accurate) information

Wow! my tax dollars hard at work huh? LAME.

This is an absolute scam by the OC District Attorney. I've seen in other papers that the names, age and the shops where the employees worked as well as their pictures were posted. This same thing happened in the IE years ago and nearly EVERY charge was dropped yet nothing was ever retracted. What ever happened to "innocent until proven guilty" in this country? The collision repair buisness is a tight knit industry. The lives of these professionals are ruined! Why? so the OC District Attorney can gain some face time in the media. These Professionals came to work and did their jobs and wrote "estimates" to repair a damaged vehicle. No vehicles were repaired. No insurance companies or individuals were charged for any repairs done. It's not the job of a collision estimator to determine what is and what isn't related on a claim when someone comes in and asks for an estimate to repair a vehicle. That responsibility lies with the insurance adjuster who writes their OWN estimate to repair the vehicle and decide what is prior or pre-existing damages. Anyone who knows the ins and outs of collision repair and claims knows this.
If my name were on this list or if I was one of the shop owners I would hire an attorney and sue the OC District Attorney and the news outlets that are posting their names and photos.
INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY!!!

ps. kudos to the LA TIMES and Ann M Simmons for not posting their names and pictures in this article!

this attorney who is prosecuting them should be a shame of himself causing these innocent poor workers to go to jail for one stupid thing that doesnt make sence at all..

time to corner the market here.

i bet this prosecuter is new to the job and is just prosecuting people for no reason he just aiming for the bucksfor all those 53 prosecution he makes tons of money. i agree those guys are4 getting arrested for a stupid mistake. but theys shouldnt spend not 1 day in jail.

This article confirms the word "Integrity" is not an adjective used to describe auto body shops or repair garages.

To whom it may concern;

It is that time of the year again. All incumbent politicians crawl out of their fund raising cubby holes and show their faces to justify their re-election and occupation of an office that was intended to be used ONLY as a place to SERVE the people of their community.

Yes folks, IT IS ELECTION TIME AGAIN and our politicians, either from the right or the left are not satisfied with spending hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions that they have received from the corrupt corporations and their CEOs, NO, they want more and the only way to get some FREE PUBLICITY is to destroy the lives of hard working Americans whom DO NOT have any political voice since they DO NOT have the money to CONTRIBUTE millions of dollars to these corrupt politician's campaigns.

THIS IS NOT WHAT OUR FOUNDING FATHERS HAD INTENDED FOR OUR POLITICIANS TO DO.

Dear District Attorney,

Your scheme to put yourself in front of media at the expense of some very honest and hardworking people is nothing but one of the lowest tactics and most despicable and selfish act that a politician has ever performed to get public attention. You should be proud of your accomplishment…….

What is next? Are you going to lie about serving in Vietnam or Golf war like your other cronies do”?

What is Insurance Fraud? "Fraud occurs when someone knowingly lies to obtain some benefit or advantage to which they are not otherwise entitled" CA Departmet of Insurance.
Here is why I think this case is found unjust.

1. Estimate that has been given to customer from a body shop is a preliminary "SHOP ESTIMATE". No matter how you want to call it, it is still a preliminary SHOP ESTIMATE. Only insurance adjustor can write INSURANCE ESTIMATE.
2. All estimates given to customer do not guarantee that they will come back to do the work. Therefore, the body shop has not gain any benefit by writing an estimate more or less.
3. When the customer asked the body shop to include previous damage in the estimate, the estimator just do what the customer requested. I do not think this is an insurance fraud since every details of the damage has been put in the estimate. Insurance adjustor has the right to included or excluded any unrelated damage.
4. The body shop has the right to state any opinion even it could be in a favor for customer. It is part of a customer service.
5. In this case, the body shop does not summit the SHOP ESTIMATE to get the money from insurance; therefore, I do not think the body shop commit a fraud.
6. To understand it correctly, the insurance controls body shop how they want to work to be done, what type of parts is paid to put on the car and how much the labor rate they willing to pay. Body shop has no control over it, therefore insurance fraud cannot be done by just a written estimate from the body shop.

Please make sure people understand this. Busting an insurance fraud have a little or nothing to do with how insurance charging the premium. People will be the judge of their action whether it is for the people or for themselve.

It seems that The Orange County District Attorney’s Office have to charged 53 defendants in Operation Straight Body with a following five-month undercover sting by the OCDA Automobile Insurance Fraud Unit. Well, I think they want to target auto body repair facilities engaging in insurance fraud.

So wait, let me understand this, they have a reality show about chopping cars?


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