Hurricane business owner faces felony charge for allegedly bilking AAA through fraudulent claims

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ST. GEORGE — A Hurricane business owner has been charged with defrauding an insurance company following more than a yearlong investigation by the Utah Department of Insurance Fraud Department.

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The case involves 45-year-old Matthew David Wetzel, who has been charged with one second-degree felony count for filing a false or fraudulent insurance claim, according to the complaint filed by Assistant Attorney General Michael Scott with the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

The complaint was submitted by Brett DeCow, an investigator with the Utah Department of Insurance’s Fraud Division, which alleges that Wetzel defrauded AAA Insurance Company out of more than $15,000 in false claims over the course of 19 months – from January 2019 to August 2020.

The investigation was launched after the Utah Insurance Fraud Division received a complaint involving Winder Towing in Hurricane, a company the defendant has owned since 2013. 

While following up on the report, the investigator discovered numerous claims that were submitted to AAA by Winder Towing, a number of which allegedly involved discrepancies as to the nature of the services provided, tow destinations, dates of service and the vehicles involved in the claims. 

Court documents also outlined a number of claims, including four towing claims that were submitted to AAA between May 2019 and June 2020, involving a known associate of the defendant and Winder Towing. Three of the claims involved vehicles that, according to the claims, were towed to Salt Lake City on different dates, for which AAA paid Winder more than $2,800. 

Through the course of the investigation, authorities say the vehicles in question were not towed to Salt Lake City. 

In another incident, investigators discovered that one of Winder’s trucks was allegedly used to deliver construction materials to an individual, and instead of being paid by the individual who ordered the delivery, the defendant reportedly submitted three separate claims to AAA. 

Investigators also learned of a claim paid out by AAA for $437 involving a car that was purportedly towed from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Washington County in September 2019. While digging deeper, DeCow reportedly discovered the vehicle recovery from Las Vegas never occurred.

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Instead, the complaint says, an individual contacted Winder to have his disabled truck towed from Apple Valley to his home in Washington County, and even though the customer did not have AAA coverage at the time, the defendant allegedly told him to sign up for a membership and then they would wait a few days before filing the claim.  

The final example listed in charging documents involved a utility vehicle that was towed from Sand Hollow State Park, a job that was ultimately uploaded onto the defendant’s Youtube channel – “Matt’s Off Road Recovery” channel that has nearly a million subscribers. 

In the footage, Wetzel is seen hauling the UTV and conversing with the owners following the recovery. As a matter of policy, however, McCow noted that AAA does not cover off-road vehicles, including UTVs. 

It was through the course of the investigation that McCow learned that instead of listing the vehicle as an off-road vehicle in the claim to AAA, the defendant listed it as a truck that was towed from the park in Hurricane to Bluffdale, located nearly 290 miles away. AAA paid out more than $430 on the claim. 

In December, the investigator contacted Wetzel and during a telephone conversation, McCow said, the defendant reportedly took responsibility for the claims made to AAA, saying they were “wrong on the front end, but fair on the back.” 

In reference to the building materials delivery, the defendant went said during the call that he had provided numerous services to that individual, including lockout services and towing calls. Then, after helping the individual a number of times, according to the report, the defendant asked him to make a claim to AAA. 

The defendant also reportedly described similar arrangements or circumstances involving a number of other people, wherein the services were provided but not immediately billed to the person or to AAA. At some point, the defendant would ask the person to turn in a claim to cover the various services Winder Towing provided, according to the report.

While speaking to the investigator, the defendant maintained that “he never turned in a job that did not have a legitimate service tied to it,” McCow noted in the document. 

In all, the complaint, filed on Oct. 28, states that AAA paid more than $15,000 to Winder Towing over the course of the 19 months.

Wetzel is scheduled to make an appearance in 5th District Court on Dec. 7.

St. George News reached out to the defendant for comment and his attorney, Jason Velez, responded to the request by saying that his client has served the people of Hurricane and Southern Utah his entire life through “selfless acts of giving back to the community and coming to the aid of all those who have needed him.”

Velez added that Wetzel is cooperating with the Attorney General’s Office to clear up any potential misunderstanding that may have resulted in these current charges.

Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained. 

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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