A former California insurance agent was sentenced to jail time on Jan. 10 after being convicted of 22 felony counts and one misdemeanor count of grand theft and forgery for stealing $174,000 in insurance premiums from port truck drivers and charter bus company owners.
Connie Free, 34, of Moreno Valley, California, was sentenced in Riverside County Superior Court to five years, including 180 days in jail, 180 days of work release, followed by felony probation for the remainder of her sentence.
A restitution hearing is set for Feb. 21, after which she is expected to surrender and start serving her jail sentence, according to the California Department of Insurance (CDI) news release.
Free targeted port truck drivers and charter bus companies by offering them competitive quotes with attractive rates on commercial vehicle insurance, the CDI said.
Between September 2017 and July 2018, at least seven victims deposited cash payments directly into Free's personal bank account to speed up the insurance coverage process, but investigators said the money never reached the insurance companies. Instead, she converted the insurance premiums "for her own use," the CDI said.
"This agent [Free] robbed truck drivers who already have some of America's hardest jobs," Ricardo Lara, California Insurance Commissioner, said in the release. "This unlicensed agent not only stole from her clients, she put them at risk of losing their livelihood."
Her scheme included issuing fake certificates of insurance and fraudulent insurance cards to her victims, the CDI said.
An investigation into Free and her "Justyce Insurance" or "Pure Justyce Insurance Agency" was launched after some of her victims filed complaints with the CDI after discovering that their "authority" to operate as a motor carrier was suspended by reviewing their own status on either the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or Uniform Intermodal Interchange and Facilities Access Agreement (UIIA) websites.
Some of Free's victims found out their insurance coverage was fraudulent after they were turned away at port terminals and other locations, while others were forced to turn down loads or jobs after discovering their insurance policies weren't valid.
When contacted by victims about the fake insurance policies, Free failed to refund their money, investigators said.
In order to resume business operations, Free's victims had to incur significant costs to find and pay for new insurance policies, according to the CDI.
The CDI is seeking to permanently revoke Free's insurance license, which was suspended in May 2018 because of a non-insurance related criminal case.
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