Spokane real estate developer sentenced for fraud cases

February 5, 2020 GMT

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A prominent Spokane, Washington, real estate developer was sentenced Wednesday to one year of home confinement and a $60,000 fine involving a bizarre scheme in which people smashed motor vehicles into each other to defraud insurance companies.

Richard Ronald Wells, 71, was also given three years of probation as part of the multi-state scheme with numerous defendants.

``Here is an individual who let greed get in the way of doing the right thing,″ FBI Special Agent Raymond Duda said in a press release. ``Now Mr. Wells is learning the real-life consequences of the decisions he made.″

Wells for years was involved in rehabilitating vintage apartment buildings and other projects in the Spokane area. He also participated in charitable activities in the eastern Washington city.

Wells pleaded guilty in April to six counts of mail fraud, one count of money laundering and other crimes. Each crime carried the possibility of 10 to 20 years in prison. But Wells did not receive any jail time.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rice did order Wells to pay restitution of $179,000, which Wells paid prior to sentencing.

Court documents say Wells acknowledged participating in one staged accident in Liberty Lake, Washington, which involved his $60,000 pickup truck being intentionally driven into a co-defendant’s truck that was towing an expensive boat.

Wells lied to police and the insurance company by claiming he was the driver of the at-fault vehicle, and that it was an accident, court documents said.

The phony accident generated $338,000 in insurance proceeds, which enabled Wells to eliminate about $80,000 in personal debt, court documents said, adding that it also allowed a co-conspirator to collect an insurance payout for fictitious injuries she claimed occurred in the same accident.

“Ron Wells’ fraudulent conduct needlessly caused health care providers, emergency personnel and police officers to expend precious resources that otherwise could have been used to assist true victims,″ said William Hyslop, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. ``In spite of the fact that he was once a respected community leader and developer in our region, he sacrificed that when he cheated, lied and laundered money.″

Federal officers have said the scheme eventually involved 22 people and generated more than $5.5 million in illegal insurance proceeds. The defendants were accused of deliberately staging accidents in Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California from 2013 to 2018.