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."