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March 2, 10

NEWS / Mercer County Auto Body Repair Shop Owner Pleads Guilty in Auto Repair Insurance Fraud


TRENTON - Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Division of Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced that a Mercer County auto body repair shop owner pleaded guilty today for his role in an auto repair insurance scam.

According to Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Riza Dagli, Robert Buckingham, 54, of Millstone, pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy to commit insurance fraud before Superior Court Judge Edward M. Neafsey in Mercer County. The charge was contained in a July 17, 2007 state grand jury indictment.

Judge Neafsey scheduled sentencing for July 7. The state will recommend that Buckingham be sentenced to three years in state prison. Buckingham may also face civil insurance fraud fines.

In pleading guilty, Buckingham, the owner/operator of Robert Christopher Collision, an auto body repair facility which does business on Kuser Road in Hamilton Township, admitted that between April 2005 and July 2006, he conspired with employees of his company to over-bill insurance companies for the repair of five automobiles. Buckingham admitted, for example, that he had the frame of a damaged 2004 Cadillac Escalade repaired by welding in a section but billed the insurance company, and was subsequently paid, for the full replacement of the frame.

In August 2008, one of Buckingham’s employees and co-defendants, Paul Failla, 55, of Morganville, pleaded guilty to theft by deception and was subsequently sentenced to two years probation conditioned on 180 days in county jail if he fails to satisfactorily complete probation. In February 2009, another employee and co-defendant, Hector Henriquez, was admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention program.

An investigation by the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor determined that Buckingham and his co-defendants allegedly billed insurance companies for auto repair work that they failed to complete. In addition, the defendants allegedly billed insurance companies for new auto repair parts when they utilized old parts, and billed the insurance companies to replace auto parts when they merely repaired the damaged auto parts. The defendants allegedly enhanced damage to cars brought to the repair facility so they could increase the amount of auto insurance repair claims.

Among the insurance companies to which allegedly false claims were submitted were New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company, Travelers Auto Insurance Company (formerly known as First Trenton Indemnity), Selective Insurance Company and Mercury Insurance Company. Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Dagli thanked the insurance companies for their assistance in this matter.

As part of the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor’s investigation into this case, a civil complaint seeking forfeiture of property owned and used by Robert Christopher Collision based on fraud was filed. As a result, the court has ordered Buckingham and Robert Christopher Associates Inc. not to sell or otherwise transfer assets of the business or the real property used by the business. The pending complaint seeks forfeiture of the assets and real estate from Buckingham and alleges that the property was used to commit the crimes alleged in the indictment.

State Investigator Wendy Wylie, Civil Investigator Frank Crosson, and Deputy Attorneys General Kristen Harberg, Christine Hoffman, Carol Stanton Meier and John Higgins were assigned to the investigation. Harberg presented the case to the grand jury and Higgins represented the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor at the guilty plea hearing. The National Insurance Crime Bureau assisted with the investigation.

http://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases10/pr20100301d.html

 




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