Alleged ringleader of auto insurance fraud ring based in New York City denies 29 new charges in Hampshire Superior Court



Last modified: Thursday, October 30, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — Seven people charged with involvement in an alleged car insurance fraud scheme based in New York City were in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, including the accused ringleader who pleaded not guilty to 29 new charges.

The latest multiple counts each of perjury, filing a false insurance claim, and conspiracy bring the total number of charges to 167 against Lefen “Helen” Chen, 55, of Flushing, New York.

Grand juries in Hampshire and Franklin counties have returned another 181 indictments against 47 others in connection with what the Northwestern district attorney’s office calls the largest car insurance fraud investigation and prosecution in western Massachusetts history.

Chen and her co-conspirators are accused of defrauding insurance companies out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance premiums over six years. According to the district attorney’s office, Chen would accompany residents of the New York City area to insurance agencies to help them fraudulently register their cars to false or nonexistent addresses in Northampton, Easthampton and Greenfield, where rates are much lower than in New York City.

Chen, the only defendant who appeared in court in shackles, is being held at the Chicopee Women’s Correctional Center on $100,000 bail as a result of her earlier arraignment Aug. 22 in Greenfield. Judge Bertha D. Josephson added $100 to her bail as a result of the 29 new charges.

Also in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday, one man was arraigned on new charges related to the insurance fraud, three others agreed to pay restitution, and two more had their cases continued to Dec. 1.

All seven defendants required the services of a Mandarin interpreter. Court was delayed and had to recess several times because the interpreter was needed not only in the courtroom, but also so lawyers could talk to their clients privately about their cases.

The court also did not have an attorney ready for appointment to the case of Huai Dong Gu, who was arraigned on charges of perjury, filing a false insurance claim, and conspiracy, and Northampton Attorney David Mintz was called and appointed. Gu pleaded not guilty and was released on personal recognizance. He is due back in court Dec. 1.

The charges against three other New Yorkers, Cheng Liu, Hongy Wang, and Jai Pan, will be dismissed as long as they make good on their agreement to pay restitution. First Assistant District Attorney Steven E. Gagne and the defendants’ three attorneys jointly recommended that the conditions of pre-trial probation continue until they pay restitution in the following amounts: Liu, $5,000; Wang, $1,594; and Pan, $500.

Their lawyers all emphasized that the three men were not admitting guilt, as any guilty plea could affect their legal status as immigrants.

“There’s no finding of or admission of guilt,” Josephson assured them before she adopted the recommendation.

The cases for two others, Ting Zhang and Xin Han Chen, were continued to Dec. 1. Gagne said he hopes that he and defense attorneys will come to an agreement to resolve their cases by that date.

According to a statement issued by the district attorney’s office, the case is the result of a year-long investigation by that office, the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts State Police, the Department of Homeland Security and the New York Police Department. The special investigations units of Commerce Insurance, MetLife, Plymouth Rock Assurance and Liberty Mutual assisted.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


 


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