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PRESS RELEASE

JANE DEE HULL
Governor

JOHN A. GREENE
Director

ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE

2910 North 44th Street, Suite 210, Phoenix, Arizona 85018-7256 · (602) 912-8456 · FAX: (602) 912-8452


Contact: Terry L. Cooper 97-17

Fraud Unit Chief FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

602-912-8418 November 24, 1997

INSURANCE FRAUD INVESTIGATION LEADS TO GUILTY PLEAS IN MAJOR

AIRCRAFT THEFT OPERATION IN ARIZONA

Insurance Director John Greene announced today the entry of a guilty plea that concludes stolen aircraft operation jointly investigated by the Arizona Department of Insurance Fraud Unit, the Phoenix Police Air Patrol and the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

The guilty plea, entered by Emanuel Papamatheakis, of Phoenix, marks the second guilty plea entered in the investigation. Earlier, Thomas E. Bales entered a guilty plea to charges involving the operation. In total, the investigation led to the recovery of five stolen aircraft.

Bales, 30 years old, formerly a reserve deputy for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and detention officer for the county, also had been certified as an FAA mechanic and flight instructor. Emanuel Papamatheakis, 48 years old, had been the owner of the Deer Valley Airport Restaurant at Deer Valley Airport.

The investigation began more than a year ago when the Arizona Department of Insurance Fraud Unit was contacted by Rex Thompson of Claimtx Aviation Services. Mr. Thompson was investigating Bales' and Papamatheakis' reported theft of a Cessna 172 to the Bullhead City Police Department in 1994. They claimed the theft of the Cessna from the Bullhead City Airport during an overnight stay in that city. The investigation led to the discovery that the plane had been insured a month prior to the theft, which in turn led to the payment of $24,000 by the insurer on the reported loss of the aircraft. Bales and Papamatheakis claimed to have purchased two salvaged aircraft in Tennessee and used parts from one to reconstruct the plane they claimed to have been stolen from the Bullhead City Airport.

The continued investigation revealed the aircraft Bales and Papamatheakis reported they used to build up the stolen aircraft was found parked at Deer Valley Airport in 1996. Further follow-up revealed the aircraft at Deer Valley Airport had been stolen from El Cajon, California.

With assistance from Phoenix Police Air Patrol Unit, the salvaged aircraft bought by the suspects in Tennessee were located in the back yard of one of the suspect's former residences. The investigation also led to the recovery of three additional aircraft, two of which had been from stolen Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, California and a third, which had been stolen from the Chandler Airport. Investigators determined that registration numbers on the aircraft stolen from California had been switched to salvaged aircraft the suspects obtained in Washington and Missouri and that the planes' maintenance log books had been altered accordingly. The efforts of the investigation further revealed that the aircraft were sold to unsuspecting victims in Phoenix and Indiana or were stripped for parts, which were sold, with the airframe dumped in the desert area near Lake Pleasant.

The aircraft involved in these cases were three Cessna 172s, one Cessna 182 and one Mooney 231.

Insurance companies paid out more than $226,000 on the aircraft theft claims. The victims who purchased these stolen aircraft were out $80,200.

Bales and Papamatheakis also are believed to have committed two additional insurance frauds involving a falsely reported stolen vehicle and staging an accident with a U-Haul Truck they had rented. Several thousand dollars were allegedly collected on these frauds.

Both Bales and Papamatheakis have entered plea agreements in this investigation and are awaiting sentencing in Maricopa County Superior Court. A restitution hearing will be held on January 7, 1998 before the sentencing takes place.