Nov. 8--SAN JOSE -- A 48-year-old San Jose man pleaded guilty this week to orchestrating a series of fires as part of a scheme to collect millions of dollars in damages, authorities said.
The house, business and warehouse fires occurred in San Jose and Stockton between December 2011 and September 2013, according to the California Department of Insurance.
In a news release Thursday, the department said it learned of the scam in January 2014 when a tipster provided the exact address of where the next house fire would occur.
The department opened a joint investigation, dubbed Operation Firebird, with the San Jose Fire Department, Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office and San Joaquin District Attorney's Office.
Chen made it appear as though fires at two homes were the result of careless cooking accidents, according to the department. He also planted smoke-damaged, many of which had already been used in insurance claims from fires at his warehouses and businesses.
The department said Chen and another co-conspirator, 64-year-old Ha Nguyen, rented a number of warehouses for an import and export business they co-owned. They used smoke-damaged possessions to also claim damages from fires in their other warehouses.
In addition, the investigation found that goods claimed to be damaged in the fires had been purchased, but not yet received.
Chen and Nguyen ultimately attempted to claim about $5.65 million in damages and received roughly $4 million from five insurance companies, according to the department.
Chen pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts of insurance fraud and arson this week. Nguyen did the same in September.
Also charged in connection with the scheme were Chen's 45-year-old wife Kim, 35-year-old Trang Hyung of Stockton, 51-year-old Suong Ngo of Santa Clara and 51-year-old Duyen Pham of San Jose.
The Chens, Nguyen and Pham are scheduled to return to court on Jan. 3 for sentencing.
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