News: 2010 Press Release
For Release: May 7, 2010
Media Calls Only: 916-492-3566
Commissioner Poizner Announces Arrests Of Inland Empire Quartet, Including Former Banning Police Officer and His Father, On Felony Auto Insurance Fraud
Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner today announced the Friday, April 30 arrests of four Inland Empire residents for alleged felony auto insurance fraud. Travis Jones, 24, who was with the Banning Police Department for less than one year and his father, Jeffrey Jones, 52, were arrested at their Corona residence. Also arrested was Jones' neighbor, Ernest Leite, Jr., 44. All three suspects were booked at the Riverside County Jail with their bail set at $50,000 each. Travis Jones' childhood friend, Steven Mestas, 31, of Riverside was ordered to appear in court on June 1, 2010.
For involvement in the fraudulent reporting of a vehicle theft and subsequent insurance claim, Travis was charged with three felonies; the other three suspects were charged with two felonies each. The San Bernardino District Attorney's Office is prosecuting this case, which resulted from a year and a half investigation.
"Auto insurance fraud is a horrible way to avoid other financial troubles," said Commissioner Poizner. "It can result in felony charges, making what might be a tough situation only worse."
On September 8, 2008, Travis Jones reported to the Riverside Police Department that his 2005 Dodge Ram pickup truck had been stolen. Jones told police that he drove his truck to a residence in Riverside to attend a birthday party, staying at this residence until the following morning, at which time he discovered the supposed theft. On September 10, 2008, Travis filed an insurance claim with his insurer, Mercury Insurance Company (Mercury) for the loss.
During the claims process, however, Mercury found that Jones' truck had been driven into Mexico on September 7, 2008, disputing Travis Jones' timeline and causing him to admit that his truck had not been stolen from Riverside - he withdrew his claim to Mercury. Further investigation revealed that Travis Jones wanted to buy a new Dodge Charger, but was financially obligated for the 2005 Dodge Ram pickup truck. Travis knew the insurance settlement would relieve him of this financial obligation, allowing the purchase of the new vehicle.
The investigation also disclosed that Jones planned on using alcohol consumption to account for the timeline discrepancy in the event law enforcement became involved with the insurance claim. Travis Jones allegedly conspired with Mestas, Jeffrey Jones, and Leite to corroborate his story. Mestas admitted later that the birthday party and the theft story were both fabricated. Had the fraudulent claim gone on undetected, Mercury could have been responsible for paying $15,000 to Travis Jones.
This case was part of the Inland Empire Organized Automobile Fraud Interdiction Program and was investigated by detectives from the California Highway Patrol and Department of Insurance. In addition, the investigation was assisted by Mercury's Special Investigations Unit as well as the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Commissioner Poizner oversees sixteen CDI Enforcement Branch regional offices throughout the state. Nearly 2,800 insurance fraud-related arrests have been made by CDI since Commissioner Poizner took office in 2007 - more arrests than have been made during any other three year period, under any previous insurance commissioner.
Please visit the Department of Insurance Web site at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.HELP. Callers from out of state, please dial 213.897.8921. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.
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