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County residents accused of insurance fraud

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State and county authorities put the brakes on two Placer County residents’ alleged auto insurance fraud. Michelle Rene Bill, 40, of Auburn, and Kristy Geri Lunardelli, 44, of Roseville, were two of 38 suspects accused of insurance fraud as a result of a state-led investigation. Bill has pleaded not guilty and will appear in Placer County Superior Court next week. Lunardelli was reportedly arrested and will be prosecuted in Sacramento County, according to Jennifer Miszkewycz, a Placer County deputy district attorney. Miszkewycz said she could not elaborate on why the case is handled out of the county. The investigation, labeled Operation Cover Me, was formed when investigators noticed a rise in possible fraud claims. They narrowed the types of fraud into three general categories. In one scenario, a suspect involved in an automobile accident would apply for insurance after the accident. In a second incident, a suspect would apply for coverage after being victims of auto theft. Some suspects did not have insurance coverage for certain excluded drivers, but those drivers were involved in an accident. Investigators believe that the suspects lied to insurance companies about the dates and times of the accidents and also conspired with friends, family members or other drivers to commit the alleged fraud. Fraudulent claims paid reportedly range from $9,800 to a potential loss of $35,000 in other claims. Sixteen insurance companies were listed as possibly being defrauded. The operation included investigators from the state Department of Insurance Fraud Division, as well as investigators from the Placer, El Dorado, Yolo, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Stanislaus district attorney offices. Investigators reviewed possible auto fraud cases over a two-month period, which led to the arrest of 28 suspects and five promises to appear issued. Outstanding warrants remain for five suspects. County district offices will prosecute the cases. Miszkewycz said she sees about two to three auto fraud cases a month, which is small in comparison to the three to four auto theft cases she sees in a week. Miszkewycz handles auto fraud and auto theft crimes for the county and was assigned Bill’s case. The penalties for auto fraud are “pretty significant,” she said. Insurance fraud is a felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $50,000 fine for each count, according to the state. Miszkewycz said in some cases the sentence is reduced to some local time but convicted offenders are also ordered to pay restitution, which usually includes the investigation costs. “They end up paying some pretty hefty restitution on top of having to do some jail time,” Miszkewycz said. Bill will appear in Placer County Superior Court for an Early Settlement Conference at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 10 in Dept. 13. - Jenifer Gee