A California family was arraigned on Thursday on more than 30 counts of fraud and arson.
Tyler Chen, 46, and his wife, Kim, 45, were arraigned in the Santa Clara County Superior Court following their arrest on multiple felony counts of insurance fraud and arson for their role in allegedly setting fires in a fraud scheme scamming five insurers out of $4 million. Four co-conspirators were also arrested and charged in the alleged fraud scheme.
The California Department of Insurance in 2014 received a tip through its consumer hotline about a connection in a string of home, business and warehouse fires that occurred between December 2011 to September 2013. The tipster gave the address of where the next house fire would occur. The department launched a joint investigation with the San Jose Fire Department and the Santa Clara and San Joaquin County District Attorney’s offices, which revealed two fires occurred at a business owned by the Chens and shortly after, their homes in San Jose and Stockton met a similar fate.
The residential fires were all reported to have started when chicken being fried was left unattended on the stove. The Chens allegedly orchestrated the entire situation to make it appear as though the fire was the result of a careless cooking incident and then planted many of the same smoke damaged items, which they had already claimed from other alleged fires in homes, warehouses and businesses.
Tyler Chen and his business associate, Ha Nguyen, 63, of Stockton, rented several warehouses for an import and export business they owned. According to investigators, the business partners used smoke-damaged belongings to also claim damage from fires in their warehouse or neighboring units. The investigation also found that goods claimed to be damaged in the fire had been purchased, but had not yet been received, which led detectives to arrest Nguyen for his role in the fraud scheme.
The Chens reportedly recruited a family member, a co-worker, and another local business owner to take part in the scheme even using the same smoke-damaged goods identified in the other fires. The damages claimed in all of the fires total $5.6 million and $4 million was paid out by five insurance companies.
The co-conspirators, Trang Huynh, 34, of Stockton, Suong Ngo, 49, of Santa Clara, and Duyen Pham, 49, of San Jose, were arrested as well for their involvement.
The Santa Clara and San Joaquin County District Attorney’s offices are prosecuting this case. The Chens, Trang Huynh, Suong Ngo, and Duyen Pham are scheduled to return to court on July 23. Ha Nguyen will be arraigned June 5.
“The complicated scheme these suspects allegedly devised to defraud insurers is deplorable,” Jones said in a statement.