A Russian citizen living in Anchorage arranged, with his partners, at least a dozen car wrecks in order to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance claims in 2011 and 2012, according to charges filed in federal court.
Federal agents arrested the alleged fraudster, Rustem Mukhametshin, late Wednesday as he was trying to board a plane out of Alaska. Mukhametshin, 26, faces one count of wire fraud.
The charges say Mukhametshin came to Alaska in June 2007 on a J-1 visa, which allows foreign students to attend college in the United States. The visa expired that September, but Mukhametshin stayed in Anchorage. It wasn't until 2010 that the Department of Homeland Security arrested him, the charges say.
Mukhametshin was ultimately ordered to leave the country voluntarily by December 2012. But in the meantime, he set out to defraud several car insurance companies, the federal government says.
According to the charges, the scheme worked like this:
Mukhametshin had been buying and selling cars on Craigslist.org since 2007. He met other J-1 students through another website, VK.com, a European social networking site similar to Facebook. Using the site, he apparently enlisted the help of the other students, who allegedly later helped stage the car accidents for a cut of the insurance money.
In most cases, the conspirators used vehicles previously totaled in wrecks that had been rebuilt and deemed "reconstructed." Most of the accidents involved two vehicles, while a few were collisions with stationary objects. Of the dozen known collisions, none had witnesses other than the drivers, no injuries were reported, and all but one occurred between midnight and 2:30 a.m.
Mukhametshin was allegedly present for at least five of the wrecks. All of the vehicles were reportedly totaled.
"Based on the claims reports, all five (of those) accidents involved collisions with Russian or Ukrainian individuals. Four of the five individuals were here in the United States on J-1 visas, while one was a legal permanent resident and friend of Rustem's, who emigrated from Russia."
The charges say a total of 22 vehicles were used and that Mukhametshin took in more than $200,000 in fraudulent claims from three separate insurance companies: Progressive, Geico and State Farm.
In a series of wire transfers that started in November 2011, Mukhametshin sent a total of $209,109 to people in Russia, according to the wire fraud charges.
It was unclear from the charges if Mukhametshin or his associates would face additional fraud charges for the insurance claims. A call seeking comment from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage was not returned Friday.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE