HARRISBURG, PA --- A total of 24 people -- including 17 from New York, six from New Jersey and one from Pennsylvania -- have been charged with auto insurance fraud and other related offenses. The suspects are accused of falsely claiming to be Pennsylvania residents in order to obtain substantially lower rates on their automobile insurance.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said the practice, known as rate evasion, involved out-of-state residents providing false information to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) in order to obtain Pennsylvania drivers' licenses or vehicle registrations. That information was then used to obtain Pennsylvania insurance policies for their vehicles.
"Because of differences in automobile insurance premiums and coverage requirements, some New York or New Jersey drivers can save anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 per year by falsely claiming to live in Pennsylvania and insuring their vehicles here," Corbett said. "The real financial losers in this scam are the honest drivers of Pennsylvania, whose premiums increase when their insurance companies pay claims for drivers who lied about living in our state."
Corbett said it is estimated that rate evaders account for $12 million to $15 million per year in insurance claims on Pennsylvania policies, which is money that comes directly out of the pocket of every other driver in this state in the form of increased premiums.
"One of the most important factors used to determine an auto insurance premium is where your car will be principally garaged and used," Corbett said. "Large urban areas, like New York City, tend to have more auto accident claims and have higher rates than rural areas in nearby Pennsylvania, like the Poconos."
Typically, rate evaders are trying to obtain insurance coverage for the lowest possible cost, so they normally obtain the minimum required coverage in Pennsylvania. When they are involved in an accident in their home state, the coverage requirements for that state apply and the cost of the accident claim increases.
Corbett said that while the false information provided by rate evaders constitutes sufficient grounds for an insurer to cancel a policy, the duped insurance company may still have to pay the medical expenses and repair costs for all the other individuals involved in the accident.
Additionally, a survey by the Insurance Research Council found that New Yorkers are more likely to agree that it is acceptable to increase an insurance claim in order to make up for insurance premiums paid when no claim was made, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that New York ranks ninth in the nation for staged auto accidents. These and other factors serve to increase the cost of auto insurance claims in New York.
Corbett said the defendants who have been arrested and preliminarily arraigned include Ilya Bratman, 32, of Brooklyn, NY; William Copenny, 25, of Brooklyn, NY; Amir Ka-El Cummings, 25, of Brooklyn, NY; Carlos Estrada, 43, of Pennsauken, NJ; Ilya Guberuk, 56, of Brooklyn, NY; Brian Hayes, 32, of Teaneck, NJ; Estelle Howe, 45, Brooklyn, NY; Garfield Babagee, 27, of Bronx, NY; Anthony Lopresti, 42, of Flemington, NJ; Maxime Mathe, 37, of Saint Albains, NY; Rose Michel, 25, of Jamaica, NY; Antonio Perez-Delossantos, 37, of Brooklyn, NY; Elsa Perez-Delossantos, 38, of Reading, PA; Irena Potocka, 42, of Trenton, NJ; Anna I. Prosteva, 42, of Trenton, NJ; Keith Queen, 52, of Camden, NJ; Mekiva Reed, 35, of Brooklyn, NY; Jacqueline Santiago, 32, of Woodhaven, NY; Kareem Sims, 34, of Staten Island, NY; Laurell V. Sobers, 32, of Brooklyn, NY and Ala Uddin, 32, Brooklyn, NY.
Defendants still being sought include Juan F. Coreas, 28, of Brentwood, NY; Stephen McFarlane, 31, of Brooklyn, NY and Ilias Stefou, 32, of Flushing, NY.
Each of the defendants is charged with one count of insurance fraud (filing or presenting false, incomplete or misleading information to a government agency), a third-degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine; along with one count of insurance fraud (filing an application for insurance containing false information) and one count of false application for certificate of title or registration, which are both first-degree misdemeanors each punishable by up to five years in prison and $10,000 fines.
The charges were filed before Harrisburg Magisterial District Judge LaVon A. Postelle. Preliminary hearings for Laurell Sobers and Anna Prosteva are scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 12. Preliminary hearings for the other defendants are scheduled for Feb. 2. All of the hearings will be held at Dauphin County Central Court.
The defendants will be prosecuted in Dauphin County by Senior Deputy Attorney General Mark A. Bellavia and Deputy Attorney General Jennifer B. Peterson of the Attorney General's Insurance Fraud Section.
Corbett said the arrests are the result of a collaborative effort by law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.