Four Suffolk County residents and a Virginia woman accused of participating in a scheme to sell fraudulent car insurance to Latino victims on the East End have been arrested and face criminal charges, Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini announced Friday.
The defendants defrauded at least 120 victims, Sini said.
The defendants helped Suffolk County residents register motor vehicles in Virginia and obtain Virginia license plates and registrations, prosecutors said. The victims would then be contacted by a representative of the "Protect Auto Insurance Company" — not a real insurance firm — to set up accounts. The victims were charged on average about $80 a month for non-existent vehicle insurance.
"We have ended a scheme perpetrated by greedy, bad actors preying upon vulnerable individuals which had the potential of putting the entire community at risk," said Sini, who urged victims to contact police. "These defendants were not only stealing thousands of dollars from residents, but leaving them unprotected by insurance."
When victims attempted to file claims after accidents, the defendants would make up stories about why the claims were ineligible, like saying the driver was at fault or the policy was only available to Virginia residents, prosecutors said.
The investigation into the alleged fraud by Eddy Belteton-Reyes, 45, of East Quogue, and his associates was initated by the Southampton Town Police Department in December 2019, officials said. The investigation expanded in 2020 and eventually also included Suffolk police, New York State Police, the U.S. Postal Service and other agencies in New York and Virginia.
"These defendants preyed on hundreds vulnerable unsuspecting individuals stealing their money while leaving them with a false sense of security," Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said.
Belteton-Reyes was charged with two counts of first-degree scheme to defraud, second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and other crimes. The other defendants are:
-- Alin Zoel Belteton-Reyes, 40, of Riverhead, charged with first-degree scheme to defraud, two counts of fourth-degree grand larceny and other crimes.
-- Juan Carlos Zarate Rodriguez, 41, of Deer Park, charged second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.
-- Ernesto Chavez Benitez, 44, of Bay Shore, charged with four counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.
-- Dina Martinez, 36, of Richmond, Va., charged with first-degree scheme to defraud.
Eddy Belteton-Reyes, Alin Zoel Belteton-Reyes and Rodriguez were arraigned on the charges Friday in Southampton Town Justice Court and were released on their own recognizance. They were represented at arraignment by Patrick J. Gunn of Hampton Bays, but are expected to be represented by the Legal Aid Society or another attorney as the case progresses. Eddy Belteton-Reyes and Alin Zoel Belteton-Reyes are scheduled to return to court on March 4. Rodriguez is due back in court on March 3.
"They entered not guilty pleas. They maintain their innocence," said Gunn, declining further comment.
Benitez was arraigned Friday in First District Court in Central Islip and was released on his own recognizance. He is due back in court on March 1. Benitez was represented by the Legal Aid Society, which did not return requests for comment.
Martinez will be arraigned at a later date.