Guilty plea in insurance fraud case over "stolen" bicycles

A Pierce County man pleaded guilty today to two counts of forgery after falsely claiming that two bicycles worth $17,000 were stolen from his garage.

John L. Southerly, of Fox Island, was sentenced in Pierce County Superior Court to 45 days of electronic home monitoring and $800 in fees.

In May 2011, Southerly told his insurance company that two Specialized Epic bicycles and accessories had been stolen. He filed a police report with a Pierce County sheriff's deputy, saying that he'd left his 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. No, 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 was 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.

Southerly, who did not show up for a scheduled court appearance earlier this year, was arrested in August while leaving a gym after a workout.

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