Merced, CA – Following a Department of Insurance investigation, four Merced family members were recently arraigned for multiple counts of insurance fraud. The investigation revealed the businesses owned and/or operated by these residents had allegedly underreported payroll by millions of dollars, leading to an illegal underpayment of over $2.1 million in workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
This alleged fraud was discovered after a previous Department of Insurance investigation which resulted in the sentencing of a father and daughter for a similar underreporting scheme. The daughter in that investigation, Angelita Barocio-Negrete, was also the office manager and bookkeeper for two additional family-owned farm labor contracting businesses in Merced County. An investigation into these businesses revealed they too allegedly underreported payroll to their insurance carrier.
Between December 2007 and January 2013, Negrete M. Agriculture Inc., owned by Maria Negrete-Melchor and her daughter-in-law Melissa Bourbois had a workers’ compensation insurance policy issued by State Compensation Insurance Fund. Maria’s daughter, Angelita Barocio-Negrete was the office manager and bookkeeper. During this time, they reported $552,517 in payroll to State Fund. A forensic audit revealed Negrete M. Agriculture Inc. actually had $4,026,125 in payroll, resulting in an underreporting of $3,473,608.
Between November 2012 and November 2015, Negrete & Son’s Ag Inc., owned by Albaro Barocio had a workers’ compensation insurance policy also issued by State Compensation Insurance Fund. Albaro’s sister, Angelita Barocio-Negrete, was the office manager and bookkeeper. During this time, the insured reported $654,091 in payroll to State Fund. A forensic audit revealed Negrete & Son’s Ag Inc. actually had $4,679,409 in payroll, resulting in an underreporting of $4,025,317.
The underreporting by both companies resulted in a loss of $2,165,308 in premium by State Fund.
Underreporting of workers’ compensation insurance in California is illegal and undermines the financial stability of the insurance system, which shifts costs onto other policyholders. It also jeopardizes the availability of benefits for injured workers, hindering their access to necessary support. Unfair competition also arises as fraudulent businesses gain an advantage over ethical ones.
These consequences destabilize the insurance system, compromise benefits for injured workers, and create an unfair business environment, ultimately harming consumers in terms of higher costs, limited access to support, and reduced economic stability. Experts at the Department of Insurance are dedicated to protecting consumers by rigorously investigating cases of alleged illegal acts by insurance companies and individuals.
All four family members were arraigned on April 25, 2023. They are scheduled to return to court on August 1, 2023. The Merced County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting this case.