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CAPITOL BUSINESS BEAT

State's top insurance cop touts three major cases in the last month

Eric Weirich, a deputy commissioner at the Insurance Department, says his force is 'the premier law enforcement agency, period' in the field.

December 15, 2013|By Marc Lifsher
  • California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. The state Insurance Department's law enforcement unit investigates and teams up with county district attorneys to prosecute staged auto collisions, arson, bogus workers’ compensation claims, fraud against insurers and policyholders, and other crimes.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. The state Insurance Department's… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO — Think insurance regulation is a dull business?

Tell that to Eric Weirich, California's top insurance cop.

Weirich, a deputy commissioner at the Insurance Department, leads a force of 275 in the fight against crime in the $80-billion-a-year insurance industry. His division investigates and teams up with county district attorneys to prosecute staged auto collisions, arson, bogus workers' compensation claims, fraud against insurers and policyholders, and other crimes.

"When it comes to fighting insurance fraud," he said, "we're the premier law enforcement agency, period."

The insurance sleuths, most of whom are sworn peace officers with badges and guns, touted three major cases in the last month:

• The Dec. 4 arrest of three of six people on suspicion of running a Sacramento "glass-harvesting ring" that filed about $100,000 worth of phony insurance claims for windshield repairs. The three are accused of using the names and policies of unwitting customers. They were charged with grand theft, insurance fraud and identity theft.

• A Kings County farm labor contractor who was sentenced Dec. 4 to six years in prison and ordered to pay $4.2 million in restitution for defrauding two workers' compensation insurance companies and for evading unemployment insurance taxes.

•The Nov. 22 arrest of a former Orange County life insurance agent on suspicion of financial elder abuse. The agent is accused of forging his client's name on requests to withdraw money from a life insurance policy.

Go Biz Go

Gov. Jerry Brown's economic development team, Go-Biz, is fast-tracking the approval of tax credits to companies that create jobs here.

Lawmakers created the California Competes tax credit in July when they junked decades-old enterprise zone incentives. Go-Biz is promoting the new program at workshops and expects to put regulations in place by early spring.

Credits are expected to total $30 million in the first year, $150 million in the second and about $200 million in each of the next three years.

Go Biz is working with interested companies, and the plan is to have applications ready for submission as soon as the program starts.

Utility uncertainty

The state's two biggest for-profit electric utilities are solid credit risks, but "uncertainties" have emerged in recent years, a new analysis by Fitch Ratings says.

Southern California Edison of Rosemead and Pacific Gas & Electric of San Francisco "continue to support solid, investment-grade credit quality," Fitch said in a Dec. 5 report.

However, the report noted that investors should be aware that Edison faces a challenge of recouping billions of dollars in costs associated with the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente.

And regulators could fine PG&E as much as $2.25 billion in connection with the 2010 explosion of a natural gas pipeline that killed eight people, injured dozens and destroyed 38 homes in the Northern California city of San Bruno.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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