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Duluth man charged with fraud for repeated insurance claims involving lost wedding, engagement rings

His ex-wife said she never received replacements when her first set of rings went missing and was unaware of bogus subsequent claims made by her husband.

FSA Court gavel 11-13-18
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Joseph Shane Thomas, 33, of Duluth, may have returned to the proverbial well one time too many, when he filed three separate insurance claims for lost wedding and engagement rings in the span of three years.

On Monday, the St. Louis County Attorney's Office charged Thomas with two counts of felony insurance fraud in relation to allegedly false claims he made in 2018 and 2019.

His first claim in May of 2017 may have been legitimate, according to his ex-wife, who confirmed losing her original wedding and engagement rings, which intertwined to form a set.

Thomas filed an insurance claim for the rings, which showed he purchased them from Helzberg Diamonds at a combined cost of nearly $4,800. But his insurance policy coverage for jewelry topped out at $2,500 — the sum of money he received.

In July of 2018, he increased his coverage with a rider covering up to $7.500 in jewelry losses.

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Four months later, in November of 2018, Thomas filed another claim when he reported that his wife had again lost her engagement and wedding rings while preparing Thanksgiving dinner. He submitted receipts indicating that the missing rings were worth more than $10,000 and received a $7,500 payment from his insurer.

According to a criminal complaint, however, the documents later were discovered to be forged.

His ex-wife, who had moved to Florida, was interviewed by law enforcement and said her original engagement and wedding ring set had never been replaced. She also said she was completely unaware that Thomas had filed a second claim for missing rings which didn't exist, the complaint states.

But Thomas wasn't done. On May 28, 2019, he filed a third claim related to missing jewelry, reporting that his wife's once-more-replaced engagement and wedding ring set — with a combined value of more than $10,000 — had again gone missing, this time during an out-of-state move. If successful, Thomas' resulting claim could have netted him another insurance payout of $7,500.

However, his insurer, USAA, flagged the claim, finding discrepancies in Thomas' documentation, which were once again later found to have been forged. Upon review, investigators discovered that all the receipts Thomas submitted to USAA for three separate claims showed jewelry purchased from Helzberg Diamonds on the same date, Jan. 2, 2014. But the values had been altered for his second and third claims. The company denied the claim and referred the case to law enforcement authorities.

Thomas' ex-wife reportedly told authorities she was unaware of this third claim regarding missing non-existent rings, as well, according to the criminal complaint.

Minnesota Commerce Department Commissioner Steve Kelley publicized the case in an April 16 release, stating: "Insurance fraud affects everyone in this state, and the dedicated agents and analysts at the Commerce Fraud Bureau work incredibly hard to protect all Minnesotans from those who prey on others."

In fact, insurance fraud costs Americans more than $80 billion annually, according to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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