Dozens of Miami-Dade homeowners, a public adjuster and her associates are facing charges as part of what authorities say was a ring that put in insurance claims on phony or exaggerated water damage to homes.
Miami-Dade police officers on Tuesday arrested at least eight suspects, including alleged ringleader Barbara Gonzalez, a public adjuster who ran a company called Rubicon Group in West Miami-Dade. She was booked into a Miami-Dade jail on Tuesday morning.
In all, 35 suspects face criminal charges. Prosecutors said the group is believed to have bilked insurance companies of about $2.5 million in phony claims.
Economic-crimes detectives have been probing Rubicon for more than one year. Gonzalez was first arrested on insurance-fraud charges in May 2018.
According to Miami-Dade police, she also helped another man, a one-time lover named Felix Bravo, file a fake $75,000 claim of water damage to his house in January 2017. When the insurance company investigated, they found that the plumber who supposedly fixed the damage didn’t exist — and the receipt submitted was created at her office, according to the arrest report.
In August, she and her ex-husband, Miami-Dade Police Lt. Alexander Diaz de Villegas, were charged in a second case. In that case, prosecutors allege, the two submitted phony documents to get more than $100,000 from Citizens Insurance Company for three separate damage claims dating back to 2013.
In the expanded probe, detectives pored through hundreds of emails and examined hundreds of claims filed through Rubicon, for everything from busted water pipes to air-conditioning leaks.
Sometimes, the group “arranged for intentional water damage,” according to an arrest warrant by Miami-Dade Detective Rebeca Perez. The homeowners or renters were in on the scam and “interested in participating in staging or exaggerating existing water damage in their homes,” the warrant said.
In one claim, Rubicon entered a claim for an AC leak, and a kitchen pipe leak, that supposedly happened at a home in May 2015. A company called Blue Star Restoration, which worked with Rubicon and altered paperwork to show work that was never actually done, sent a bill for $4,533 in repair work, according to an arrest warrant.
But a Citizens inspector noted that there was no mildew, mold or fungus or damage in the house. In fact, the investigation concluded, the house didn’t even have an A/C unit at the time. Blue Star submitted photos of its equipment supposedly plugged and working — except the power wasn’t even functional on the property, police said.