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Friday, November 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Accused ringleader in insurance fraud case that involved Ron Wells has gone missing, forcing delay in trial

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 11, 2019

The Thomas Foley Federal Courthouse in downtown Spokane on in 2010. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
The Thomas Foley Federal Courthouse in downtown Spokane on in 2010. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

William Mize, the alleged ringleader of a federal insurance fraud conspiracy case involving 22 defendants, including prominent Spokane developer Ron Wells, is a fugitive.

Mize was listed as “not present and in fugitive status” on Aug. 29 when his lawyer, Allen Bentley, told Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice that Mize’s “whereabouts are unknown.” Rice canceled Mize’s pretrial conferences and deadlines, as well as his trial dates “until such time as the defendant is located.”

Mize, described as having 18 aliases in court documents, was a key figure in a scheme to defraud insurance companies of $6 million through staged car crashes and other incidents. Mize’s wife, Sandra Talento, recently pleaded guilty to 25 felony counts and faces decades in prison. Her sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 7.

Two other men involved in the alleged conspiracy – Christopher Frangella and Jason Allan Westfall – were sentenced and imprisoned on Tuesday. Frangella will spend 15 months behind bars for six felony counts, after which he will have supervised release for three years. He owes $42,000 in restitution for his crimes. Westfall faces six months in prison for three counts. His restitution is $10,000. Frangella and Westfall are the only defendants who have been sentenced.

Bentley said Wednesday he didn’t know what happened to Mize. He said he turned Mize’s passport over to either the federal prosecutor, George Jacobs III, or the court.

“I don’t have it. I can tell you that,” he said, adding that he hadn’t heard from Mize nor knows his location. “The answer is no to both questions.”

Jacobs, in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, would not comment on Mize’s fugitive status, but did say 18 defendants have pleaded guilty so far in the case.

“There are several defendants scheduled to be sentenced in the next few months,” he said.

Mize and Talento are described in court documents as central figures in the alleged conspiracy, which deliberately staged 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.

The couple were part of every crash described in the December 2018 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,” according to court documents. 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 say.

Before March, Mize and Talento traded ownership of a home and nearly 10 acres of land just west of the city on the outskirts of Riverside State Park assessed at $912,000 by Spokane County. That month, the federal government seized that property, as well as a home near Five Mile Prairie assessed at $370,000 by Spokane County. The government also seized more than $190,000 from various bank accounts, $260,000 from an escrow account and $42,000 in cash.

Mize went by many names, including Phillip Novak, Phillip Gonzalez, Phillip Boito, Bill Babaian, Bill Park, William Westfall, Chad Harris and others.

Ron Wells, a developer and architect whose decadeslong work in Spokane includes renovations of numerous historic buildings, is the most notable of the defendants.

In April, Wells pleaded guilty to nine felonies related to staging a car crash in 2016 in Liberty Lake that involved Mize, Talento and Frangella.

On Oct. 16, 2016, Wells’ 2015 Ram 3500 truck was deliberately driven by Mize into a 2005 Ford F-250 owned by Frangella, which was towing a 2005 Baja boat and trailer owned by Mize, according to court records. 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.

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 Wells’ plea agreement.

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.

He is scheduled for sentencing in December.

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