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Bermuda Dunes Man, Father Accused in $1.5 Million Workers Comp Fraud

The duo operate a landscaping company that serves several Palm Desert associations and businesses, including The Gardens on El Paseo.

A father and son accused of more than $1 million in workers' compensation insurance fraud whose company serves several Palm Desert businesses and associations are due in court Friday.

Indio resident Jesse Garcia Contreras, 57, and his son, 32-year-old Carlos Contreras of Bermuda Dunes, have each pleaded not guilty to six felony counts of workers' compensation insurance fraud. They have a felony settlement conference Friday at 8:30 a.m. at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, when a judge may set a preliminary hearing date.

They both face up to 19 years and eight months in prison if convicted, according to John Hall of the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.

Jesse Contreras is president and CEO of Thousand Palms-based Sunshine Landscape and Carlos Contreras is the company's accounting director. Sunshine Landscaping contracts with many homeowner's associations and businesses in the Coachella Valley, according to Hall and the company's website.

Several of those locations are located here in Palm Desert, according to their website:

  • Chaparral Country Club
  • El Paseo Village
  • Indian Ridge Country Club
  • Monterey Country Club
  • Oasis Country Club
  • Palm Valley Country Club
  • The Gardens on El Paseo
  • The Lakes Country Club
  • Woodhaven Country Club

An 18-month investigation showed that the Contrerases allegedly defrauded the State Compensation Insurance Fund and insurance companies out of about $1.45 million from January 2008 to March 2012, Hall said.

"The defendants intentionally misclassified dozens of employees as having jobs that were less dangerous than they actually were. They classified more than 40 tree trimmers as landscapers, therefore having to pay far less in workers' compensation insurance premiums," Hall alleged.

He said the case was investigated by the Inland Empire Premium Fraud task force because of a complaint of possible fraud filed by Zenith Insurance Company with both the California Department of Insurance and the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.

"By cheating insurance companies out of their rightful premiums, this type of criminal conduct causes there to be an uneven playing field for those businesses which are doing things the right and legal way," District Attorney Paul Zellerbach said. "Crimes like this also cause an increase in insurance premiums for those businesses which are following the law. It is this office's responsibility to make sure that businesses operate under the same rules and guidelines to ensure that there is a fair marketplace."

linda hanna April 19, 2013 at 04:27 PM
Here are two guys (I come up short thinking of them as men!) who ran a successful business and could have made their way in the world nicely without resorting to crime. I've thought of all the energy and talent that is diverted from honesty into fraud. What a waste. What is the pay off in their twisted minds? I hope they go away for a long time. They have earned it.
Tomas Ayeres April 23, 2013 at 02:24 AM
Here are two hard-working, basically honest men, who provided work, and paid taxes to every government agency with their hands out for money, they killed no one, injured no one, and still the government will force them out of business, and every employee is also out of work. Along with that, comes less tax collected from everyone. Meanwhile some liberal, who has never owned a business, or dealt with government restrictions, or provided employment for others, has the gall to lecture them and suggest they should go to jail. Get a life.
Lee April 26, 2013 at 04:18 AM
The claim that this creates an uneven playing field is absurd. With homeowners and businesses looking to get the absolute best possible prices from all the honest, hardworking landscapers throughout the valley, it is literally impossible for a landscape company to follow and abide by every government ripoff fee and tax burden placed on Californian businesses. If a landscape business paid all of these fees they would be out of business in a month, and that's if they already had a business, forget about trying start a landscape company in California. So rather than send two hard-working men to prison, how about create laws and government fees that support small business' and start ups. How about California workers comp rates NOT being 30 times higher than every other state. How about busting the thousands of people scamming workers comp, unemployment, welfare and every other socialist entitlement program out there, its not hard to find them, they're the ones swiping the EBT card and driving off in the Escalade on 24" rims. Its a shame that this country no longer supports small business', or entrepreneurs, it would rather create so much red tape that people either stop trying, or get hauled off to prison for 20yrs...wait a minute...isn't that more time than Chef David Veins received for killing, boiling and then eating his wife? Hmmm, way to go California...

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