Man charged with insurance fraud after $17,000 stolen-bicycle claim

A Pierce County man has been charged with insurance fraud, forgery and attempted theft after filing a $17,000 claim for two bicycles that investigators say he never owned.

John Leonard Southerly, of Fox Island, last May told his insurance company that two Specialized Epic bicycles and accessories had been stolen from his garage. He filed a police report with a Pierce County sheriff's deputy, saying that he'd left the garage door open and discovered that the two bikes, valued at $17,562, were gone.

Southerly told his insurer, Travelers Indemnity Co., that he'd bought both bikes from an Arizona company. When Travelers asked for copies of his receipts, Southerly sent an email that was purportedly from the bike company. The bike company email came from a Gmail account. Attached was an invoice for each bike. Southerly later also filed a sworn statement of proof of loss for the bikes.

Travelers sent an investigator to talk to the bike shop owner and try to verify that the invoices were authentic. Nope, the owner said, pointing out discrepancies.

Then, last June, Travelers received an email from a different Gmail address.

"This is Detective Harris," it began. "I work out of the Tacoma office. I am trying to follow up on a case that involves Mr. Southerly..."

The email didn't contain contact information for this "Detective Harris," or even specify which law enforcement agency the detective supposedly worked for.

Travelers denied Southerly's claim and turned the case over to the state insurance commissioner's Special Investigations Unit. It quickly determined that there is no Detective Harris working for the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, the Tacoma Police Department or the Lakewood Police Department.

With search warrants, the Special Investigations Unit determined that both Gmail accounts listed Southerly's real email as a secondary contact and were sent from Southerly's IP address.

On March 30, Southerly was charged in Pierce County Superior Court with one count of insurance fraud ("false claims or proof"), three counts of forgery and one count of attempted first-degree theft.

His arraignment is set for Friday.

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