Lefen ‘Helen’ Chen pleads guilty in insurance fraud ring, may face deportation



Last modified: Thursday, December 18, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — A woman from Taiwan may face deportation after she admitted in Hampshire Superior Court Wednesday that she led a scheme that defrauded insurance companies out of hundreds of thousands of dollars over six years.

Lefen “Helen” Chen, 56, of Flushing, New York, accepted a plea agreement t that allowed her to plead guilty to the crimes but avoid sentencing.

Her attorney, Jeffrey Brown of Northampton, said that his client is an illegal immigrant. He said she consulted immigration attorneys and hopes that since she was not sentenced, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will not consider her to have been convicted of a felony, which would determine whether she would be deported.

Attempts to confirm this with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman were unsuccessful Wednesday. After court, Chen was immediately placed in the custody of two Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Brown said she would have a hearing at a immigration office in Hartford, Connecticut, on Thursday.

Chen, speaking through a Mandarin interpreter, admitted in court that between January 2008 and July 31, 2014, she drove immigrants who lived in New York City to western Massachusetts and provided fraudulent information to insurance companies in order to assist her customers obtain policies using addresses in Northampton, Easthampton, and Greenfield.

First Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Steven E. Gagne said in court that the rates for insurance policies registered at the fraudulent addresses were much lower than those in New York City, where the drivers actually lived. The district attorney’s office has previously said the scheme resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in loss to the insurance companies.

The investigation into Chen’s scheme started about a year ago, when Gagne said the insurance companies noticed that numerous drivers they insured kept having accidents in New York City. The investigation resulted in 238 indictments against 38 individuals, mostly drivers who Chen assisted in getting fraudulent policies. Some have accepted plea deals and made restitution, Gagne said.

In two separate cases in Hampshire and Franklin counties, Chen was charged with 167 counts including perjury, filing a false insurance claim, and conspiracy.

As part of the plea agreement, the state did not go forward with all charges with the exception of one count of insurance fraud from each of the two court cases. Chen pleaded guilty to those two counts, which were amended to add the phrase “between January 2008 and July 31, 2014,” to include all fraud that occurred during that time, Gagne said in court.

Both attorneys asked Judge Mary-Lou Rup to “file” the guilty plea for one day but not to impose a sentence. Rup agreed.

After court, Brown said he could not say for sure whether that would protect Chen from being deported, but he had asked for that disposition in the hopes of minimizing the impact of the case on her immigration status.

Gagne said after court that while Chen was not sentenced Wednesday, the prosecution believes it is a good resolution because she already served 128 days in jail. She was held on $100,000 bail since being arraigned Aug. 22.

It was her first offense, Gagne said, and she also may face severe consequences through the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “It’s a hefty sanction she faces,” he said.

The prosecution of this case — the biggest ever in western Massachusetts — has led to $20,000 in restitution being paid and the end of this insurance scheme, Gagne said.

“This ring was disrupted, the message was sent, and the commonwealth’s goals were met,” he added. The commonwealth did not seek any restitution from Chen, who is indigent.

Brown said in court that Chen moved to New York City when she was 20 and previously owned a nail salon and did data entry. Her family lives in New York City. Brown said part of the reason Chen perpetrated the insurance fraud was because she wanted to help other Chinese nationals who came to the city.

The insurance companies affected by the scheme were Commerce Insurance, MetLife, Plymouth Rock Assurance and Liberty Mutual.

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


 


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