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Tuesday, May 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Ron Wells, prominent Spokane developer, pleads guilty to multiple felonies in federal insurance fraud case

UPDATED: Tue., April 30, 2019, 7:19 p.m.

Developer Ron Wells in the darkened lobby of the former Ridpath Hotel, the top two floors of which are currently being renovated into apartments, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Wells pleaded guilty to multiple felonies on April 29, 2019 that could send him to prison. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Developer Ron Wells in the darkened lobby of the former Ridpath Hotel, the top two floors of which are currently being renovated into apartments, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Wells pleaded guilty to multiple felonies on April 29, 2019 that could send him to prison. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Ron Wells, a Spokane developer and architect known for historic restoration, has pleaded guilty to nine felonies related to staging a car crash in 2016 in an attempt to defraud insurance companies.

With his guilty pleas, filed Tuesday in federal court, Wells admitted to mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and illegal monetary transactions. Each offense carries between 10 and 20 years of maximum jail time, and up to $250,000 in fines for each charge. By entering his pleas, Wells waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to hand over any assets to meet the nearly $180,000 he owes in restitution.

Wells is one of nine people who have so far pleaded guilty in the case, which originally involved 22 defendants who were accused of deliberately staging a “series of automobile, boating, stair fall, pedestrian/vehicle and other accidents” in Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California from 2013 to 2018. In total, the group is alleged to have defrauded insurance companies of more than $6 million.

“When Mr. Wells was indicted, he vowed to take full responsibility for his conduct and to fully assist and cooperate with the government. His plea today is an additional step towards fulfilling that commitment,” said Kevin Curtis, Wells’ attorney, in a statement. “Mr. Wells will regret his decision to get involved for the remainder of his life and will continue to attempt to make amends in any way possible.”

According to court documents, Wells worked with William Mize, who is at the center of the federal case, to defraud Safeco Insurance by staging a collision in Liberty Lake.

On Oct. 16, 2016, Wells’ 2015 Ram 3500 truck was deliberately driven by Mize into a 2005 Ford F-250 owned by Christopher Frangella, which was towing a 2005 Baja boat and trailer owned by Mize. Directly following the collision, Mize got out of Wells’ truck and into Frangella’s vehicle before police and emergency vehicles arrived. Wells lied and said he had been driving his truck, and was at fault, according to court documents.

Sandra Talento, Ryan Park, Misael Reyes-Tajimaroa and Frangella were also on the scene, and named as defendants in the federal case. Claiming injuries and damages, the six received settlement payouts totaling $338,266 from Safeco Insurance.

Of that, Wells received $59,557 from Safeco. A $20,000 loan he had received from Mize was forgiven due to his participation in the staged collision. Wells agreed to take part because “he could not afford to repay” the loan from Mize, the “architect” of the staged collision who “offered to forgive the loan” if Wells participated, according to the plea agreement.

Documents don’t say why Wells owed Mize $20,000. Curtis, Wells attorney, said that Wells involvement with Mize was the “result of an inability to repay a personal loan from William Mize, who made veiled threats were he unable to repay. Others were apparently brought into Mr. Mize’s various schemes through similar circumstances.”

Wells also participated in money transactions related to a collision staged in September 2016 in Rescue, California, according to court records. Though he wasn’t directly involved in the staged collision, money that Wells knew was “criminally derived” from the crash was deposited in his Wells Fargo Bank account. Wells later withdrew $100,319 by cashier’s check from his account, which was used to pay off Mize’s mother’s mortgage for a home in Spokane’s West Hills Neighborhood.

Wells agreed to pay $179,876 in restitution for his crimes, and said he will assist in forfeiting and transferring his assets to the government.

He also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, which could decrease the amount of time he’s imprisoned after he’s sentenced on July 30.

Wells has worked as a historic preservationist and developer in the region since 1983. He has saved dozens of buildings from the wrecking ball, and 45 of his projects have qualified for historic tax credits. His projects include the Steam Plant, Carnegie Square and numerous historic apartment buildings in downtown and Browne’s Addition. His renovation of the Ridpath Hotel into affordable housing is ongoing, though investors behind the project stripped Wells of his authority in an effort to protect it from these charges.

Paul Mann, who took over as manager of the Ridpath project since Wells was indicted in December, said “everything’s been agreed on for him to be removed from ownership as well.”

“The Ridpath should not be affected in any way,” Mann said. “We’ve been working on removing him from ownership. It’s a done deal. I don’t think it’s in any danger.”

In the months leading up to the charges being filed, Wells had been bedridden for three months because of an undisclosed illness and hospitalization. Mann, who had Wells’ power of attorney during his convalescence, said he has seen Wells recently, but declined to comment on his well-being, other than to note, “Obviously, it’s been devastating for him over the last few months.”

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