Pennsylvania authorities charged 24 people – including 17 New York residents and six New Jersey residents – with attempting to falsely claim Pennsylvania residency to obtain auto insurance rates up to $4,000 per year lower than in their state.
The alleged rate evasions involved providing the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation with false information so owners could obtain Pennsylvania drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.
Each of the defendants was charged Dec. 24 with one count of insurance fraud for 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.
The each also face one count of insurance fraud for 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.
“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,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett in a statement. “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 rate evaders account for an estimated $12 million to $15 million per year in insurance claims on Pennsylvania policies, causing every driver in this state to pay higher premiums.
Typically, rate evaders are trying to obtain insurance coverage for the lowest possible cost, so they normally obtain the minimum required coverage in Pennsylvania, according to Corbett. 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 bills and repair costs for all the other individuals involved in the accident.
Defendants charged in the scheme included Ilya Bratman, 32, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; William Copenny, 25, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Amir Ka-El Cummings, 25, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Carlos Estrada, 43, of Pennsauken, N.J.; Ilya Guberuk, 56, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Brian Hayes, 32, of Teaneck, N.J.; Estelle Howe, 45, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Garfield Babagee, 27, of Bronx, N.Y.; Anthony Lopresti, 42, of Flemington, N.J.; and Maxime Mathe, 37, of Saint Albains, N.Y.
Also charged were Rose Michel, 25, of Jamaica, N.Y.; Antonio Perez-Delossantos, 37, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Elsa Perez-Delossantos, 38, of Reading, Pa.; Irena Potocka, 42, of Trenton, N.J.; Anna I. Prosteva, 42, of Trenton, N.J.; Keith Queen, 52, of Camden, N.J.; Mekiva Reed, 35, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Jacqueline Santiago, 32, of Woodhaven, N.Y.; Kareem Sims, 34, of Staten Island, N.Y.; Laurell V. Sobers, 32, of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Ala Uddin, 32, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Authorities continue to seek several people charged in the case, including Juan F. Coreas, 28, of Brentwood, N.Y.; Stephen McFarlane, 31, of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Ilias Stefou, 32, of Flushing, N.Y.
The charges were filed before Harrisburg Magisterial District Judge LaVon A. Postelle. Preliminary hearings will be held in Dauphin County Central Court in January and February, authorities said.
Law enforcement agencies involved in the arrests included the Harrisburg Police Department, Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, Bronx District Attorney’s Office, Staten Island District Attorney’s Office, Brooklyn Warrant Unit, New York Police Department Uniform Patrol, Queens NYPD Fugitive Unit, Camden County District Attorney’s Office and the Camden City Police Department, according to Corbett’s office.