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13 arrested in fake-collision insurance fraud scheme, officials say

13 arrested in fake-collision insurance fraud scheme, officials say
A map shows the approximate location of an auto body shop in Indio where authorities say a fraud scheme operated. (Bing Maps)

Thirteen people were arrested Wednesday in connection with a scheme to defraud auto insurance companies by staging bogus collisions in the Coachella Valley, prosecutors said.

The operation's ring leader, Joel Paredes Saldana, 21, of Coachella, reportedly owned an auto body shop and paid $500 each to family and friends to pose as insurance customers, according to the Riverside County district attorney's office.

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They subsequently filed claims for traffic collisions that were either staged or never happened, prosecutors said.

Authorities said they launched their investigation last year after receiving a tip.

Saldana's auto body shop, Lightning Auto Body in Indio, closed earlier this year. He now faces 16 felony counts of insurance fraud, prosecutors said.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA, or email her at veronica.rocha@latimes.com

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