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RIVERSIDE (CBSLA.com) — Over 100 law enforcement officers fanned out Wednesday across Riverside County and made over a dozen arrests in an alleged auto insurance fraud ring involving fraudulent collision claims, authorities said.

KNX 1070’s Charles Feldman reports California Department of Insurance investigators believe the alleged mastermind of the ring recruited family and friends to file phony claims that bilked seven insurance companies out of more than $314,000.

22-year-old Joel Saldana, of Riverside, was among 13 people arrested in “Operation Three’s Company”, which targeted suspects who allegedly orchestrated 16 “phantom collision” claims involving multiple insurance companies, including State Farm, Progressive and Century.

Saldana, who owns Lightning Auto Body in Riverside, allegedly recruited at least 20 friends and family members for $500 each to claim collisions that were either staged or didn’t occur at all, according to California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

Investigators initially received information about the crime ring as early as 2013, when insurers detected a pattern to insurance claims made by Saldana and his co-conspirators, according to Jones, who said similar types of schemes in the Southland are nothing new.

“Southern California is the insurance fraud capital for the United States,” Jones said. “It costs our economy literally billions of dollars.”

The alleged ring members face multiple felony charges including grand theft, knowingly filing a fraudulent insurance claim, and conspiracy, according to investigators.

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