California insurance agent gets five years for stealing truckers’ premiums
January 13, 2020
•Land Line Staff
A former insurance agent from Moreno Valley, Calif., who bilked unsuspecting truckers with bogus insurance policies, must serve jail time and pay restitution, according to the California Department of Insurance.
Connie Free, 34, of Moreno Valley, was convicted of 22 felony counts and one misdemeanor count including grand theft and forgery after stealing at least $174,000 in insurance premiums from 11 victims, according to a news release from California Insurance Commissioner Richard Lara. She was sentenced to 180 days in jail, 180 days in work release and about four years of felony probation.
“This agent robbed truck drivers who already have some of America’s hardest jobs,” Lara said in the statement. “This unlicensed agent not only stole from her clients, she put them at risk of losing their livelihood.”
According to the news release, Free targeted port truck drivers who lost their authority as a result of not having insurance. Acting as “Justyce Insurance” or “Pure Justyce Insurance Agency,” Free was found to have accepted premium payments from her victims and failed to remit those payments to insurance carriers. She instead converted the payments for her own use.
Free’s victims were primarily truck drivers and small businesses in the trucking or charter bus industry. Some of the victims discovered that their “authority” to operate as a motor carrier was suspended by reviewing their own status on either the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or Uniform Intermodal Interchange and Facilities Access Agreement websites, according to the news release.
In some cases, victims were turned away when attempting to haul loads from or return chassis to port terminals or service client sites. Other victims had to decline jobs after learning they did not have insurance policies, the release stated.
“These victims were forced to find and pay for other policies to meet the coverage requirements that would allow them to resume their businesses, causing them to incur losses over and above the premium amounts provided to Free for nonexistent policies,” the release stated. “Free failed to provide refunds, and in most circumstances refused to even respond to inquiries made by her victims.”
Following consumer complaints, the California Department of Insurance launched an investigation. Between September 2017 and July 2018, at least seven victims paid Free for coverage that was not placed with an insurer. The investigation also found Free would solicit truckers through telephone, email or a postcard offering competitive quotes on commercial vehicle insurance. Free accepted cash payments directly into her bank account. Some victims received fraudulent insurance certificates or ID cards, making them believe they actually had insurance coverage.
A restitution hearing is scheduled for Feb. 21. Following that hearing, Free is expected to surrender and begin her sentence.