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Posted on: December 9, 2020

Operation Sledgehammer: Auto Insurance Fraud Ring Busted

NRPD Press Release

Westchester County District Attorney Press Release:

Dec. 9, 2020 -- Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. announced the takedown of OPERATION SLEDGEHAMMER, an enterprise insurance fraud scheme operating in lower Westchester and the Bronx, following a nearly two-year long investigation.  Five registered businesses and nine defendants (listed below) were charged with Enterprise Corruption for defrauding insurance companies by enhancing motor vehicle damage and falsifying insurance claims. Additionally, three other individuals (listed below) were charged on separate felony complaints with other crimes relating to this scheme.

Four of the defendants Joseph S. Cermele, Rangee Jawahir, Georgette S. Sloley, and Wayne M. Scott were arrested on Tuesday, December 1, 2020, and arraigned in New Rochelle City Court. The remaining individuals, Ronnie Lee-Andros Jawahir, Allan Ramdeo Ramiah, Ronald Jawahir, Danesh Singh, and Andrew Arjune, were arrested Tuesday, December 8, 2020, and also arraigned in New Rochelle City Court.  All individuals were released without bail and are to return to court on different dates throughout December and January. 

All individual defendants and companies named below have been charged with Enterprise Corruption, a class B felony, and other felony offenses listed in the felony complaint including Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony; Money Laundering in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony; Insurance Fraud in the Third Degree, a class D felony; and Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class D felony.

Defendants    Charged Businesses

RONNIE LEE-ANDROS JAWAHIR (DOB 05/10/1982)

New Rochelle, New York 10805    LEE’S AUTO REPAIR, INC.

248 Washington Avenue

New Rochelle, New York 10801

ALLAN RAMDEO RAMIAH (DOB 10/05/1986)

New Rochelle, New York 10801    CERMELE’S AUTO COLLISION, LLC

245 Washington Avenue

New Rochelle, New York 10801

JOSEPH S. CERMELE (DOB 06/16/1961)

Scarsdale, New York 10583    R&G AUTO WORKS, INC.

9 Horton Avenue

New Rochelle, New York 10801

RONALD JAWAHIR (DOB 07/26/1989)

Bronx, New York 10470    CITY AUTO REPAIR, INC.

3437 White Plains Road

Bronx, New York 10467

RANGEE JAWAHIR (DOB 04/14/1987)

Dobbs Ferry, New York 10522    RAMIAH AUTO REPAIR, INC.

214 Main Street, “Suite 1”

New Rochelle, New York 10801 

GEORGETTE S. SLOLEY (DOB 04/05/1987)

Mount Vernon, New York 10550    

DANESH SINGH (DOB 01/03/1990)

Bronx, New York 10466    

ANDREW ARJUNE (DOB 12/18/1990)

Bronx, New York 10466    

WAYNE M. SCOTT (DOB 12/27/1965)

Bridgeport, Connecticut 06607    


The following additional individuals were arrested and charged on separate complaints with related crimes:

    Latoya Shonta Turner (DOB 11/23/1987) (Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Insurance Fraud in the Third Degree, and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree)

    Reiluis Medina (DOB 05/15/89) (Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and Insurance Fraud in the Third Degree)

    Andrea Thompson (DOB 02/07/86) (Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and Insurance Fraud in the Third Degree)

Operation Sledgehammer was a collaborative investigation led by the District Attorney’s Investigations Division and Criminal Investigators (Auto Crimes Unit)with the assistance of the following agencies and law enforcement partners: 

    City of New Rochelle Police Department

    New York State Police Special Investigations – Auto Theft Unit

    City of Yonkers Police Department

    New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Division of Field Investigations

    New York State Department of Financial Services

    New York State Environmental Conservation Police 

    National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB)

Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr., stated, “Auto insurance theft affects every one of us. Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime.  When false claims are made and money is stolen from insurance companies, it forces all of our insurance rates to increase and costs each of us hard-earned money. This important collaborative investigation into an egregiously blatant enterprise, whose members used their skills and time to steal from insurance companies, was accomplished with the assistance of many agencies and partners. This investigation could not have been done without this cooperation. These arrests send two messages. To all fraudsters: know that this type of illegal conduct will not be tolerated in this County and will be fully investigated and prosecuted. And to the people of Westchester: know that we actively seek out and bring to justice those enterprises which seek to gain illegal monies to the detriment of all insurance policy holders.”

Kevin Gallagher, Regional Director of the Northeast Region of the National Insurance Crime Bureau stated, “The National Insurance Crime Bureau would like to applaud the staff of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office for their continued efforts in addressing insurance fraud in Westchester County. The cost of insurance fraud is shared by all Consumers; and this investigation sends a strong message to others who may be contemplating engaging in insurance fraud. We look forward to our continued partnership in combatting insurance fraud for all New Yorkers.”

New Rochelle Police Commissioner Joseph Schaller said, "“During the early part of 2019, the National Insurance Crime Bureau began noting a disproportional number of “High-end” claims being submitted by Lee’s Auto Body located in New Rochelle for repairs to customer’s vehicles. Suspecting that the claims had some sort of fraudulent aspect, they then forwarded their initial findings to the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office. A year-long investigation was then launched by the Westchester County D.A.’s Investigators in conjunction with the City of New Rochelle, City of Yonkers, New York State Police Special Investigations-Auto Theft Unit, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Division of Field Investigations, New York State Department of Financial Services, New York State Environmental Conservation Police and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. I want to recognize the hard work and collaborative efforts of the detectives assigned to the New Rochelle Police Department’s Property Theft Unit, and members of the all of involved Law Enforcement agencies. Through numerous investigative techniques, and unparalleled cooperation amongst members of all agencies, “Operation Sledgehammer” is being brought to a successful conclusion. It is the largest Enterprise Corruption case ever prosecuted in Westchester County."

Yonkers Police Deputy Chief of Investigations Joseph Monaco stated, “When unscrupulous individuals commit fraud, we are all victimized. Let these arrests be a warning to those who would cheat the system that law enforcement in Westchester County will vigilantly pursue you and use every available resource to deliver you into the Criminal Justice System. I applaud the efforts of all the investigators and prosecutors involved in this multi-agency collaboration.”

Background:

From on or about and between May 31, 2019 and March 3, 2020, the defendants, while aiding and abetting and acting in concert with each other and others, in the City of New Rochelle, in other parts of Westchester County, in Bronx County, and elsewhere in the State of New York, intentionally conducted and participated in a pattern of criminal activity in the form of auto insurance fraud via auto repair shops.

The defendants and uncharged and unnamed others were members of the “Jawahir Enterprise,” which operated and furthered an enhanced motor vehicle damage and automobile insurance fraud.  The Jawahir Enterprise focused on the defrauding of insurance companies by the submission of claims that evidenced (1) enhancing damage to a vehicle either with or without knowledge of the vehicle owner and/or (2) intentionally inflicting damage to vehicles that were not previously damaged.  

Several schemes were used to defraud insurers.  In some cases, defendants strategically enhanced vehicle damage so the body shop could increase the billed repair cost while keeping the actual cost of repair to a minimum.  The insurer would be charged the higher amount.  Another scheme involved staging accidents between two or more vehicles, at least one of which was owned by a person who had insurance. 

An additional scheme involved members of the enterprise strategically striking insured vehicles with heavy objects such as sledgehammers or rubbing light assemblies alongside a vehicle.  The damage was created to simulate collisions with stationary vehicles.  At times, members of the Jawahir Enterprise created no new damage to their vehicles, but instead submitted claims to multiple insurance companies under different policies in an attempt to receive money. 

To ensure the success of the Jawahir Enterprise, the members of the larger operation included:

    defendant auto body shops at which the damage to vehicles was performed;

    defendant auto body shops that legally exist and are used as shops of record on claims, but that are not operational in fact;

    owners and managers of the shops who arranged for the body work to be performed and orchestrated the distribution of the shops across the claims; 

    the shops’ employees, working under the direction of the owners and managers, who assisted in damaging the vehicles;

    vehicle owners who offered their vehicles and insurance in exchange for a portion of the insurance payout as remuneration; 

    individuals who called insurance companies and posed as vehicle owners filing a claim; 

    individuals wo located additional claimants to bring into the enterprise; 

    individuals who received criminal proceeds from the fraudulent insurance payouts in order to launder the funds; and others. 

The insurance companies primarily issued claim payments in the form of physical checks. In some instances, the proceeds of the fraudulently obtained insurance claim checks were laundered through a series of orchestrated deposits, transfers, and cash withdrawals throughout bank accounts controlled by members of the Jawahir Enterprise.  

The investigation is continuing and more arrests are expected. 

The case is being prosecuted by Investigations Division Assistant District Attorneys Laura Forbes and Emily Rowe-Smith.


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