McALLEN — Twenty area residents pleaded guilty this week to defrauding an insurance company by filing thousands of false injury claims.
The 20 guilty pleas on wire fraud charges are more than half of the defendants named in indictments unsealed last month detailing the scheme that allegedly defrauded the American Family Life Assurance Company of millions of dollars.
Prosecutors said the scheme involved three dozen people who purchased Aflac supplemental insurance policies and filed fake claims for minor injuries that paid about $100 per incident.
Those involved in the scheme paid two Reynosa doctors about $15 per incident to sign fake accident reports, the indictments state.
In a four-year span, the defendants allegedly racked up more than 21,600 false injury claims that totaled more than $3 million, accompanied by the doctors’ accident reports, to Aflac’s claims department in Columbus, Ga.
Included among those who pleaded guilty is Steven Betancourt, who was suspended without pay as an Hidalgo policeman following his indictment last month. Hidalgo Police Chief Vernon Rosser said Betancourt, 39, resigned from the police department after his suspension.
Betancourt filed five false claims, saying he requested insurance money after cutting his chin after tripping on a sidewalk, hurt his leg while feeding a dog, burned himself with hot water, burned his arm while burning trash and dropped a hammer on his toe between 2006 and 2009.
“Now with that conviction, he’ll be losing his license, too,” Rosser said.
Also charged in the case were Hidalgo County employees, area schoolteachers and Homer Cedillo Jr., 41, of Edinburg, who resigned from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office after FBI agents informed Sheriff Lupe Treviño of their investigation.
The 20 defendants who pleaded guilty now face up to 20 years in prison without parole, a $250,000 fine and will have to pay back the money they bilked from Aflac.
But the majority of defendants likely will avoid serious prison time. Prosecutors agreed to drop remaining charges against the defendants who pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and to ask the court for a reduced sentence.
In the case of Betancourt, for instance, he will have to pay restitution on the count he pleaded guilty, but federal sentencing guidelines recommend six months or less of prison time — if any at all.
Sentencing hearings for those who pleaded guilty in the case are set to begin in September.
Jared Taylor covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4439.
THEY DID IT
The 20 people who pleaded guilty this week to wire fraud and are pending sentencing in the fall for their role in this multi-million dollar fraud scheme include:
>> Denise Rendon, 39, of Mission
>> Norma Sanchez, 40, of Edinburg
>> Eddie Guerra, 34, of Alamo
>> Lucila Alcala, 40, of Edinburg
>> Lilly Perez, 32, of La Villa
>> Desiree Rodriguez, 34, of Edinburg
>> Jose D. Rodriguez, 34, of Edinburg
>> Steven Betancourt, 39, of Edinburg. Betancourt had worked as an Hidalgo policeman and was suspended without pay after his indictment. He later resigned.
>> Rachel Betancourt, 42, of Edinburg
>> Maria C. Alaniz, 38, of La Grulla
>> Patricia Cerda-Flores, 45, of Palmview
>> Dalia Cerda-Delgado, 39, of Palmview
>> Leonor B. Salinas, 46, of Elsa
>> Rebecca Castillo, 41, of Edinburg
>> Ninfa Reyes, 38, of Edcouch
>> Noemi Villareal, 60, of Edinburg
>> Idaleen Sanchez, 34, of Edinburg
>> Valerio Ramos, 55, of Edinburg
>> Jose Guerra Jr. 37, of La Joya
>> Rigoberto Ramirez, 30.
STILL FACING CHARGES
>> Maria Guzman, 40, of Edinburg
>> Idaleen Sanchez, 34, of Edinburg
>> Homer Cedillo, Jr., 41, of Edinburg
>> Mary Cedillo, 65, of Edinburg, mother of Homer Cedillo
>> Martha Ortega, 57, of McAllen
>> Yolanda Segovia, 55, of McAllen
>> Candida Chavez, 34, of McAllen
>> Lori Chavez, 30, of McAllen
>> Anissa Chavez, 31, of McAllen
>> Norma Flores, 54, of Palmview
>> Nora Palacios, 53, of La Joya
>> Georgina Flores, 33, of Mission
>> Nancy Rodriguez, 31, of Pharr
>> Maria Cantu, 56, of McAllen
>> Beatriz Carreon, 42, of Edinburg
>> Minerva Murguia, 43, of Sullivan City