Today’s news:

Six from Far Rockaway charged in car fraud ring

Five men and one woman from Far Rockaway were charged in an auto fraud scheme that bilked insurance companies of more than $17,000 as part of a continuing boroughwide investigation into auto-related crimes, the Queens district attorney said.

DA Richard Brown said Aug. 13 that the owner, manager and several employees of Al's Body Shop and Garage at 10-16 Beach 19th St. were charged with insurance fraud, grand larceny, falsifying business records and scheming to defraud after the two-year investigation. Each defendant faces up to seven years in prison if convicted, the DA said.

"Auto insurance fraud is a crime of opportunity that some may regard as a no-risk way to make an easy buck," Brown said. "Hopefully, the prosecutions in this case will send a clear signal that law enforcement is determined to put a major dent in this kind of wrongdoing."

Brown said the arrests were made as part of an ongoing, 10-year boroughwide investigation into auto fraud schemes. He said the multi-agency investigation includes representatives from his office, the Police Department and state Insurance Department.

The defendants were charged following a 10-count indictment. Brown said those charged in the case were: Lisaleah Perez Rizzo, 38, of Nicholson, Pa; Anthony Perez, 40, of 65-29 Bayfield Ave. in Far Rockaway; Andy Perez, Perez Rizzo's brother; David Smith, 45, of 420 Beach 64th St., in Far Rockaway; Allen Borland, 41, of 1360 Beach 24th St. in Far Rockaway; Luis Gonzalez, 34, of 301 Beach 84th St. in Far Rockaway.

Lisaleah Perez Rizzo is the widow of Al Rizzo, the previous owner of the garage who is now dead but had been sentenced in 1992 to a jail term for a similar scheme at the body shop, the DA said.

Brown said the charges resulted a series of undercover sting operations in Queens County that began in 1991, targeting auto insurance fraud rings. The DA said people from throughout Queens gave up their cars in the alleged scheme.

The DA said the six defendants were charged with having taken money from Progressive Insurance and Liberty Mutual by filing property damage claims containing false information. Brown said the defendants allegedly received $8,070 in August 2002 for repairs to a BMW, $1,741 in October 2002 for repairs to a pickup truck, and $7,200 for repairs to a Chevrolet Suburban.

Brown said the defendants allegedly ran a scheme in which they convinced owners of cars in good condition to give their cars to Al's Body Shop and Garage where they could be taken apart. The defendants then would allegedly encourage their clients to file false insurance claims stating that the cars had been vandalized, Brown said.

All groups involved would then allegedly split the money from the insurance companies, while the body shop would restore the cars to their original condition, the DA said.

Some of the parts taken from cars in the scheme to portray vandalism for the insurance claims were air bags, seats, stereos and other mechanical parts, Brown said.

"Insurance fraud drives up insurance rates for all of us and investigations like this one, which is ongoing, go a long way toward keeping the cost of insurance in New York affordable," Brown said.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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