monopoly_money.jpgSix current and former employees at an auto body shop in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood were arrested Tuesday and appeared in court today on charges that they scammed insurance companies out of more than $130,000.

The company, Golden City Auto Body, located at 950 Folsom St., came under investigation in April 2009, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Stephanie Ong Stillman said.

The urban auto task force from the state’s Department of Insurance discovered that employees at the shop were making fraudulent claims using customers’ insurance policies, Stillman said.

The company was fabricating or exaggerating damage to customers’ cars in their claims, and in some cases even impersonated customers while talking to insurers, she said.

The employees are accused of more than 60 fraudulent claims to four insurance firms–Farmers Insurance, 21st Century Insurance, the California State Automobile Association and Allstate Insurance, Stillman said.

Yin Kim Lau, 46, the owner of Golden City, was arrested Tuesday at her home in Millbrae.

Four other suspects–Mae Ann Rabara Apostol, 46, of Daly City; Hong Vi Bang, 30, of South San Francisco; Liann King Yu Ho, 30, of South San Francisco; and Hin Fai “Roy” Lau, 28, of San Leandro–were also arrested Tuesday at their homes, while Kenneth Eng, 32, of Daly City, turned himself in to authorities.

All six defendants made their initial appearance in San Francisco Superior Court this afternoon but did not enter a plea at a hearing that was attended by many of their family members and friends.

Their attorneys argued that they should be released on their own recognizance because none have criminal histories, but Judge Andrew Cheng ordered them held in custody on the bail set on their arrest warrants.

Yin Kim Lau, the owner, was ordered held on $750,000 bail, Apostol on $600,000, Eng on $400,000, Bang and Ho on $250,000 each and “Ray” Lau on $200,000, according to Stillman.

Yin Kim Lau’s defense attorney, Garrick Lew, said outside of court that the way his client and the others were arrested was “totally outrageous” since they have been cooperating with investigators and currently have a civil trial pending in the same case.

Lew said, “This is a paper case against insurance companies, this isn’t a robbery or murder.”

Stillman defended the way the suspects were taken into custody.

“With multiple co-defendants, you have to do it all at once, out of the fear that someone might flee,” she said.

The six suspects will return to court on Friday to enter pleas and discuss the possible reduction of the bails.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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