'Crash for cash' scam ends in prison, deportation for Russian man

Casey Grove

A Russian man living in Anchorage, who admitted to staging car wrecks around the city to collect insurance money, is set for deportation after he serves a one-year prison sentence, which was handed down last week.

Federal prosecutors called it a "crash for cash" scam.

Police nabbed the fraud suspect, Rustem Mukhametshin, in October trying to board a flight to New Jersey, according to the charges filed against him soon after the arrest. Mukhametshin, 26, pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud in January. After his time behind bars, three years of court-ordered supervised release and paying $70,000 restitution, Mukhametshin is scheduled to be deported back to Russia, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

According to the plea agreement, here is how the scam worked:

Mukhametshin, who came to the United States in 2007 on a student visa, bought damaged vehicles or vehicles deemed to have been "totaled." He would make minimal or no repairs to a vehicle, register it, then have it insured. Mukhametshin would either stage a wreck -- usually late at night in a remote location, to minimize witnesses -- or report a collision that never occurred and file for a claim on the vehicle's insurance policies.

Mukhametshin had the damaged vehicles insured as if they were of a higher value.

"The (insurance) companies assume that the vehicle being insured is of a reasonable condition, making its value consistent with other cars of the same make, model, production year, and mileage," prosecutors wrote in a written statement. "Mukhametshin exploited that practice by buying damaged cars at rates well below the standard value, and then staging accidents with the damaged cars he purchased."

In four such claims to the insurance company GEICO, Mukhametshin and his accomplice drivers were able to collect more than $70,000.

Mukhametshin's lawyer wrote in a sentencing memorandum that Mukhametshin had come to the U.S. to work, save money and return to Russia to start a business and a family. After overstaying his student visa and getting an order to self-deport, which he ignored, Mukhametshin could not work legally and turned to buying and selling used vehicles, the memorandum says.

"Somewhere along the way, his judgment was clouded and he substituted easy money for hard work," his lawyer wrote. "Mr. Mukhametshin regrets his lapse in judgment. He is a young man, and -- as young men often do -- he made an impetuous decision and failed to think about the long-term consequences of his actions."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com.