A California woman has been sentenced to prison and ordered to pay restitution after she was convicted on charges related to stealing $174,000 worth of insurance premiums from truck drivers.
On January 10, thirty four year old Connie Free was sentenced to 180 days in prison, 180 days of work release, and more than 4 years of probation, according to a news release from the California Department of Insurance. She was also ordered to pay restitution to her victims.
Authorities say that Free was convicted on 22 felony counts and one misdemeanor count including grand theft and forgery for her role in an scheme that duped 11 victims out of at least $174,000.
According to investigators, Free targeted port truck drivers who lost their operator authority as a result of not having insurance, and — under the alias of “Justyce Insurance” or “Pure Justyce Insurance Agency” — accepting insurance premium payments from the truck drivers but failing to pass the payments along to insurance companies, opting instead to keep the money for herself.
The California Department of Insurance detailed Free’s alleged scheme:
“The investigation found Free would establish contact with her victims by soliciting them through telephone, email or a postcard offering competitive quotes with attractive rates on commercial vehicle insurance. Free would then gather the victim’s vehicle information, provide a quote for the desired coverage, and if accepted, have the victim make a cash payment directly into her bank account, so she could pay the carrier to immediately establish a policy for them. Some victims received fraudulent Certificates of Insurance and Insurance Identification Cards which made them believe Free actually placed their insurance coverage.
Free’s victims were primarily truck drivers and small businesses in the trucking or charter bus industry. Some of Free’s victims discovered that their “authority” to operate as a motor carrier was suspended by reviewing their own status on either the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or Uniform Intermodal Interchange and Facilities Access Agreement (UIIA) websites.
In some cases, these victims were turned away when attempting to haul loads from or return chassis to port terminals or service client sites. Other victims had to decline jobs after learning Free failed to place coverage. These victims were forced to find and pay for other policies to meet the coverage requirements that would allow them to resume their businesses, causing them to incur losses over and above the premium amounts provided to Free for nonexistent policies. Free failed to provide refunds, and in most circumstances refused to even respond to inquiries made by her victims.”
“This agent robbed truck drivers who already have some of America’s hardest jobs,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “This unlicensed agent not only stole from her clients, she put them at risk of losing their livelihood. Thanks to the hard work of Department of Insurance investigators and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office she will now have to pay restitution to those she harmed.”
The California Department of Insurance has ordered the permanent revocation of Free’s license.