Dawson residents implicated in alleged fraud ring

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia is suing a pair of Yukon residents for insurance fraud. A civil lawsuit filed with BC Supreme Court on…

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia is suing a pair of Yukon residents for insurance fraud.

A civil lawsuit filed with BC Supreme Court on August 3 names Jozsef Suska, Michele Palma and 20 other defendants as parties to an automobile theft and insurance fraud ring that operated in and around Surrey, BC, between June 2001 and November 2004.

The lawsuit alleges that several of the defendants voluntarily gave up their vehicles and reported them stolen to the insurance corporation.

The vehicles were then dismantled, rebuilt and often disguised with false vehicle identification numbers in order to re-sell them, the lawsuit alleges.

The 22 individuals named in the lawsuit were directly or indirectly involved in 25 vehicle-theft claims, according to the insurance corporation, which is trying to recover $553,495 for claims costs it has paid out.

The allegedly fraudulent claims ranged from $6,000 to $59,000 for theft of early and late-model cars as well as late-model trucks and SUVs.

“ICBC has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to fraud,” corporation vice-president Mark Withenshaw said in a release.

“We will not sit back and simply pass the cost of fraud onto our customers.”

The corporation uncovered the fraud ring after investigating a suspicious car crash in October 2002.

Investigators suspected the crash was staged. Some of the claimants involved in the crash were also involved in a number of fraudulent stolen-vehicle claims, according to a corporate release.

It’s not clear if the fraud ring was operating in the Yukon as well as the Lower Mainland of BC.

But Suska and Palma are both listed as Dawson City residents.

It is alleged that a number of the incidents of fraudulently altering vehicles took place in the Fraser Valley, “so primarily Surrey and Langley,” said corporation spokeswoman Kate Best.

“The implication with the Yukon is just that two of the named defendants had Dawson City, Yukon, as their last recorded address,” Best said Tuesday.

“This suit isn’t stating that any activity occurred in the Yukon.”

But an unnamed source told The News that some of the rebuilt cars have Yukon licence plates.

The rules for registering vehicles in the Yukon are more lax than in most Canadian jurisdictions because all anyone needs to register a vehicle is a bill of sale, the source said.

When a vehicle can’t be registered, the government provides the same temporary licence plate that car dealerships use, the source said.

Sgt. Dan Gaudet of the RCMP’s Dawson detachment would not confirm or deny that the RCMP are investigating the possibility of a fraud ring operating in the Yukon.

“I can’t tell you that,” Gaudet said when asked if the RCMP were looking for a ‘chop shop’ in the Klondike.

“Two of the persons named in the (BC) affidavit make their home in Dawson City, Yukon,” he said.

“Any spin-off investigation, present or past, I can’t comment on, for obvious reasons.

“The bottom line is, if anybody is trying to defraud any kind of insurance company, guess who has to pay? It’s the public who has to pay for that.”

In 2005, anti-fraud programs within the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia resulted in 175 criminal charges against 94 people, and saved BC motorists $73 million.

The insurance corporation investigated 3,300 claims in 2005.

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