Local family members on trial for insurance fraud

Government says claims were substantially misrepresented to bilk company of thousands of dollars

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND — A South Bend married couple and the man’s mother went on trial Monday in federal court, accused of defrauding auto insurance companies by filing claims with substantial misrepresentations.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Brook told the jury in her opening statement that Angela Jackson, formerly known as Angela Blackwell, used the scheme as a way to move up to a better vehicle.

“This was insurance fraud — family style,” said Brook, as she explained the alleged roles of the three defendants.

Brook said that Jackson, 35, aided by her husband, Joe, 40, and his mother, Essie, made insurance claims about stolen or damaged vehicles and about expensive equipment such as rims, tires and electronic items that allegedly were stolen.

As part of the claims, according to the charges, substantial misrepresentations were made as to the purchase price of the vehicles.

The defendants submitted sham purchase agreements and phony or altered receipts to support their claims, the government maintains.

The indictment includes one count of conspiracy and six counts of mail fraud stemming from insurance documents sent through the mail to further the alleged scheme.

The jury heard testimony Monday about a 1999 Ford Expedition that Angela Jackson reported was stolen Sept. 29, 2001, from a motel in Hazelwood, Mo.

She claimed she purchased the vehicle from her husband’s mother the previous April for $33,000 and still owed $28,000 at the time it was stolen.

Terry Morgan of Paoli, Ind., who formerly operated an auto salvage business, testified that he sold the Expedition to Joe and Essie Jackson in May 2000 for $6,800, based on documents he had.

The vehicle was wrecked, not road worthy and had a salvage title, Morgan said.

Bureau of Motor Vehicle records indicate the title was transferred from Essie to Angela in July 2001 with the purchase price listed as a gift.

On a tape-recorded statement made to an insurance claims adjuster, the jury on Monday heard Angela Jackson describe the stolen vehicle in very good condition and not having been in a crash as far as she knew.

The insurance company eventually paid her $21,500 to settle the claim about seven months later.

The jury is also to hear about another car theft claim and a report of a damaged vehicle from which thousands of dollars in electronic gear was reported stolen.

Michael Rehak, the attorney for Joe Jackson, said his client had a close friend who did extensive work on the Ford Expedition as a favor, using parts costing $9,000 to $12,000.

Essie Jackson’s lawyer, David Weisman, said his client had no knowledge of any conspiracy. “Whatever she did was done to help her children,” Weisman said.

The trial is expected to last through Thursday.