Insurance Fraud NEWS

Coalition Against Insurance Fraud

Frying chicken is excuse for home arsons in California

November 07, 2019, Santa Clara County, CA — Tyler Chen, 48, pleaded guilty this week in the Santa Clara County Superior Court following his arrest on multiple felony counts of insurance fraud and arson for his role in setting fires in a $4 million fraud scheme. His wife, Kim, 45, also pleaded guilty this week on multiple felony counts. Four co-conspirators including business associate, Ha Nguyen, 63, of Stockton, were also arrested and charged. The Chens and Nguyen will return to court January 3, 2020, for sentencing.

“We stamped out this dangerous and costly scam thanks to the hard work of Department of Insurance detectives who pursued a tipster’s alert and launched a joint investigation,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. "Operation Firebird is a great team effort and shows how our department works with local investigators and district attorney’s offices to combat complex insurance fraud.”

Department of Insurance investigators discovered the scam in January 2014, when they received a tip through the department’s consumer hotline regarding a string of home, business and warehouse fires that occurred between December 2011 and September 2013. The tipster gave the exact address of where the next house fire would occur. The Department of Insurance launched a joint investigation dubbed Operation Firebird with the San Jose Fire Department, the Santa Clara County District Attorney and San Joaquin County District Attorney into fires that occurred at a business and two homes in San Jose and Stockton owned by the Chens.

Both the residential fires were reported to have started when chicken was being fried and left unattended on the stove. Mr. Chen orchestrated the entire scam to make it appear as though the fire was the result of a careless cooking incident. Furthermore, Chen proceeded to plant smoke-damaged items in the homes, many of which they had already used in insurance claims from other fires in their warehouses and businesses.

Chen and Nguyen rented a number of warehouses for an import and export business they co-owned. According to investigators, the business partners used smoke-damaged possessions to also claim damage from fires in their other warehouses. The investigation also found that goods claimed to be damaged in the fire had been purchased, but had not yet been received, which led detectives to arrest Nguyen for his role in the fraud scheme.

Chen and Nguyen attempted to claim damages of $5,653,665, of which $4,009,008 was paid out by five victim insurance companies. Chen recruited a family member, a co-worker, and another local business owner to take part in their ruse. Co-conspirators, Trang Huynh, 34, of Stockton, Suong (Sandy) Ngo, 49, of Santa Clara, and Duyen Pham, 49, of San Jose, were also arrested for their involvement. Nguyen pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts of insurance fraud and arson on September 16, 2019.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting this case. The Chens, Ha Nguyen, and Duyen Pham are scheduled to return to court on January 3, 2020, at 1:30pm in Department 40 for sentencing. Suong (Sandy) Ngo will return to court on December 19, 2019 at 1:30pm in Department 38. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office is also prosecuting this case.

Source: California Department of Insurance

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