Maria Ramirez’ job heading the battle against automobile fraud in the state’s most populous county is tough enough. But her division is “operating on fumes” amid a rise in that type of crime and scaled-back local government budgets, so the announcement of several million in funding grants gave her reason to cheer.
District attorneys’ offices around California will be getting a part of $23 million in grant funding to battle automobile insurance fraud.
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones on Tuesday announced funds totaling $15.2 million were distributed to 35 counties for the regular auto insurance fraud grant program and $7.6 million were distributed to 10 counties for their organized auto fraud program. The funds will assist the district attorneys with the investigation and prosecution of automobile insurance fraud.
Jones distributes the funds to district attorneys who participate in insurance fraud investigation and prosecution efforts. The funds that are distributed come from statutory authority granted to the state’s insurance commissioner, which allows the collection of assessments from insurance companies based on the number of vehicles they insure.
The biggiest recepient of the grants, roughly $7 million, was the Los Angeles County‘s Auto Insurance Fraud Division. L.A. County leads the state in leads state in SFC’s (suspected fraudulent claims).
“This year we were barely able to cover the salaries for the investigators who are working on auto insurance fraud,” said Ramirez, head deputy of the division. “We’re kind of operating on fumes here.”
There are 12 attorneys in the division, and roughly 20 investigators are spread between the regular and organized auto insurance fraud sections, she said.
“If we didn’t have the grants, we probably would not be able to dedicate a division to the prosecution of auto insurance fraud,” Ramirez added.
According to Ramirez, auto fraud in L.A. County has risen since the U.S. economy took a turn for the worse in 2008.
“It kind of spiked when the economy started taking a dive,” she said, adding that filings of false claims involving arson or stolen vehicles are the largest that involve single claimants.
Often, even more resources are required to investigate L.A.’s large auto fraud rings— such rings often involve a professionals like chiropractors, lawyers, as well as cappers (people who organize the fraud), in intricate fake collision scams—and the funding for that effort has gone down in the past year, Ramirez said.
“These are cases that sometimes take a year or more to investigate that often involve intense surveillance and years of working up a case on these rings,” she said. “And to be honest, the funding has gone down significantly. That’s a challenge for us, we’re having to prosecute and investigate these fraud rings that do take a large amount of personnel.”
County funding is as follows:
Regular Auto Insurance Fraud Program (FY 2011/2012 Grant Awards)
Contra Costa $417,457
El Dorado $298,957
Los Angeles $4,306,309
San Bernardino $637,495
San Diego $1,500,000
San Francisco $250,000
San Joaquin $329,185
San Luis Obispo $64,128
San Mateo $278,605
Santa Clara $785,000
Santa Cruz $90,771
Organized Auto Fraud Interdiction Program (FY 2011/2012 Grant Awards)
Los Angeles $2,741,147
San Bernardino $225,218
San Diego $1,196,166
San Francisco $246,290
Santa Clara $956,693