A Riverhead man was one of five people arrested in connection to an alleged scheme to sell fraudulent car insurance to people in the Hispanic immigrant community, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.
More than 120 victims of the scheme were led to believe they were purchasing auto insurance through “Protect Auto Insurance Company” when instead they were losing thousands of dollars to “greedy, bad actors preying upon vulnerable individuals,” District Attorney Timothy Sini said.
Mr. Sini said potentially hundreds of Suffolk County residents are caught up in the scheme and driving without proper insurance. Investigators are still trying to find victims and are asking anyone with information to contact law enforcement.
“This was a complex scheme that crossed state lines, but in collaboration with our local, state and federal partners, we were able to unravel this conspiracy and identify the perpetrators,” Mr. Sini said.
The DA’s office worked in conjunction with New York State Police, Suffolk County police and Southampton Town police, who launched the original investigation in December 2019 stemming from a single complaint. Several other agencies spanning to Virginia contributed to the investigation starting last year.
The scheme involved registering motor vehicles belonging to Suffolk County residents in Virginia and obtaining plates and registrations from that state for the vehicles, the DA said. Fraudulent inspection stickers from Virginia were also sometimes provided to victims.
Investigators compiled evidence through court-authorized eavesdropping and search warrants as well as physical, aerial and electronic surveillance, the DA said.
Victims were required to pay an up-front cost of $800-$1,000 and provide foreign passports or identification and an original title to obtain the documentation and license plates.
“Victims would then be contacted by a purported representative of Protect Auto Insurance Company to set up their insurance accounts,” the DA’s office said in a release.
The defendants would accept payment in cash, credit cards, PayPal, Zelle, gift cards or money orders. The victims then were charged approximately $80 a month for the insurance.
Alin Zoel Belteton-Reyes, 40, of Riverhead would allegedly collect cash payments from victims in person on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the DA said. He would use a portable printers in his vehicle, the DA said, to provide a receipt as a way to legitimize the scheme.
When victims were involved in motor vehicle crashes or involved in other issues, Mr. Belteton-Reyes and Eddy Belteton-Reyes, 45, of East Quogue, would allegedly create excuses as to why the incidents were not eligible for insurance coverage. In some instances they said the driver was at fault or the insurance coverage was only available to Virginia residents.
Police executed search warrants Thursday in various locations in both New York and Virginia, including the homes for both of the Beleton-Reyes defendants.
Police recovered 14 Virginia license plates, Virginia inspection stickers, approximately $11,545 cash, multiple desktop and mobile printers and various documents connected to the alleged scheme, such as passports, DMV paperwork, vehicle titles and registrations and documents of the fake company.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service assisted in the investigation as well and intercepted a package from Alin Zoel Belteton-Reyes to Dina Martinez, 36, of Richmond, Va. The package contained $2,980 in cash, Virginia titles, New York State titles, three passports and copies of Virginia registrations.
“These defendants prayed on hundreds vulnerable unsuspecting individuals stealing their money while leaving them with a false sense of security,” Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said in a press release.
The investigation started when police began looking into the scheme by Eddy Belteton-Reyes and his associates, the DA said.
Police also arrested Juan Carlos Zarate Rodriguez, 41, of Deer Park and Ernesto Chavez Benitez, 44, of Bay Shore.
Alin Zoel Belteton-Reyes faces multiple felony charges: first-degree scheme to defraud, two counts of fourth-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.
Eddy Belteton-Reyes faces two counts of first-degree scheme to defraud, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, third-degree grand larceny, seven counts of fourth-degree grand larceny and second counts of petit larceny, a misdemeanor.
They were both arraigned Friday in Southampton Town Justice Court and released on their own recognizance. They were required to surrender their passports and are due back in court March 4.
The DA said anyone who believes they may be a victim can contact the DA’s office directly by calling 631-853-4232 or by emailing [email protected].
“This is another example of how collaboration works to disband criminal enterprises that take advantage of our residents,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in a press release. “Not only did this fraudulent scheme target members of the Hispanic immigrant community by stealing their money and providing them with a false sense of security—they put every driver in harm’s way.”