Ron Wells, a developer and architect whose decadeslong work in Spokane includes renovations of numerous historic buildings, was indicted Wednesday in federal court for allegedly staging a car crash in an attempt to defraud insurance companies.
The grand jury named Wells along with 21 other defendants who are 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 and faces charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud and other charges.
About six crashes were staged a year, according to the indictment. Most of them were two-vehicle collisions “on remote roads at night where there were no witnesses other than the co-conspirator occupants of the intentionally crashed vehicles.”
Wells is named in 17 of the 101 counts for his alleged role in a staged collision on Oct. 16, 2016, on Appleway Avenue in Liberty Lake.
According to the indictment, a 2015 Ram 3500 truck registered to and insured by Wells was purposely driven into a 2005 Ford F-250 registered and insured by Christopher Frangella, which was towing a 2005 Baja boat and trailer. Claiming injuries, both Wells and Frangella received settlement payouts totaling $338,266 from Safeco Insurance.
In a separate count, the court documents show a transfer of $225,000 between Wells and William Mize, who is at the center of the federal case, in April 2016. Another count alleges that a $100,319 cashier’s check was exchanged by the men in March 2017.
According to a statement from his lawyer, Kevin Curtis, Wells “intends to continue fully cooperating with the government.” The statement said Wells was put into a medically induced coma nine weeks ago following a setback while recovering from an undisclosed surgery. After three weeks, he awoke from the coma and was transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where he remains.
Wells did not inform his lawyer or the government of his health problems, the statement says, and “the investigation and indictment process continued without his participation and further cooperation.”
Most people named in the suit are Spokane-based, and they include Mize and Sandra Talento. Mize and Talento are described as key figures in every crash described in the indictment. Mize would drive the “at fault” vehicle into the other “no fault” vehicle, and in some cases purposely inflict injuries on his co-conspirators “to mislead responders and insurance companies.” He also required his co-conspirators to urinate in a bottle, which he would pour on their clothing to make it appear they lost consciousness, court documents read.
Mize and Talento have traded ownership of a home and nearly 10 acres of land just west of the city on the outskirts of Riverside State Park. Court documents list them as married.
Kimberly and Ryan Park, who own Tru Jack Contracting with Frangella, are also named, and they blame Mize for their involvement.
Daniel Wise, a federal prison consultant, spoke on behalf of the Parks, saying they allowed the “thought process of greed and getting money to cloud their judgment.”
“These are two individuals who know what they did was wrong and they’re trying to make it right,” said Wise, who coaches soon-to-be prisoners on what to expect while they’re serving time behind bars. “They’re willing to cooperate and they’re going to cooperate with the government against Bill, the target of the indictment.”
Mize, who Wise referred to as “Uncle Bill,” was a longtime family friend of Ryan Park, Wise said. Park borrowed $20,000 from Mize to help buy a condo, but ended up underwater on the loan.
“In order for him to get out from underneath it, Uncle Bill came up with the scam,” Wise said.
After the first “scam” involving a fan that hit Park in the head got him out of debt, he continued working with Mize to defraud insurance companies, Wise said.
“It cleared Ryan of his debt. And opportunities were made available to him,” Wise said. “What Bill does is prey upon people who are financially unstable. Before they knew it they were in so deep and getting out of it was hard, considering his relationship with Bill.”
Wells’ lawyer said it was his intention to “assist the government by taking all necessary steps to detail his involvement with the primary targets of the investigation, William Mize and Sandra Talento, and to take responsibility for his role.”
Court documents say that the defendants staged 33 crashes from Sept. 11, 2013, to April 12, 2018. They were done to “enrich” the defendants by “defrauding victim insurance companies through filing and collecting payment on fraudulent insurance claims for property damage, wage loss, and bodily injury.”
The indictment names 17 insurance companies that were allegedly defrauded by the conspirators, including Allstate, Berkshire Hathaway, Liberty Mutual, Nationwide, MetLife, Progressive and State Farm.
Numerous banks were also listed as defrauded, including Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Umpqua and Banner.
U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington of the Eastern District of Washington said he had no comment on the case.
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.
“It is Mr. Wells’ sincere hope that the projects in which he is involved will not be jeopardized by his personal situation nor to detract from his numerous civic contributions over the years,” Wells’ statement said.
Paul Mann, a partner in the Ridpath project who is renovating a 3,100-square-foot condo on the hotel’s 13th floor, said he expects the project to be completed.
“I can’t say how everybody will respond, but I think the project will move through to completion,” he said. “This is a very important project to provide affordable housing in downtown Spokane. It has many supporters and I think it will still be completed despite this.”
Thomas Clouse contributed to this report.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.