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Bemidji man pleads not guilty to insurance fraud

BEMIDJI – A 28-year-old Bemidji man has pleaded not guilty to gross misdemeanor insurance fraud for allegedly filing a false report of a motor vehicle accident.

Mitchell Lewis Hill entered his plea Monday before Beltrami County District Judge John Melbye. His next court date was set for Jan. 8.

According to the criminal complaint:

Hill purchased a 2009 Chevrolet pickup truck on June 25. Just after 8 p.m. that same day, he reported a hit-and-run crash, claiming that a white minivan struck his vehicle while it was traveling south on state Highway 197. Hill reported that a white Astro with a racing sticker on its driver’s side rear window, pulled off the shoulder of the road and struck his rear passenger area, causing damage.

The Minnesota state trooper who investigated the report could find no evidence of an accident at the reported crash site, despite Hill’s report that skid marks were left on the roadway. Further, the trooper viewed the damage allegedly caused by the crash and did not believe it was consistent with a motor-vehicle crash. The damage was roughly 33.5 inches off the ground.

On July 9, Hill reported that he believed he found the vehicle that had struck his truck. The trooper investigated the van and found no damage or signs of body repair. Its bumpers also were 15 to 21 inches in height. He determined that the van was not involved in the crash.

The trooper spoke with the previous owner of Hill’s truck, who after viewing pictures of the damage, said he himself had caused the damage when he backed into a pole outside a Bloomington, Minn., business.

Court papers also state:

The trooper learned in September that Hill had obtained an estimate of $1,746.75 and submitted it to the owner of the Astro van for payment. He also learned Hill filed an insurance claim.

The trooper met Hill again Sept. 14, when Hill said he tried to get the Astro van’s owner to pay for the damage and filed an insurance claim. Hill was arrested.

At Beltrami County Jail, Hill told the trooper that he had not been struck by the Astro van, but that it had gotten very close to his vehicle and scared him. As a result, he looked at the passenger side of the pickup truck, which he had not done prior to purchasing to vehicle, and noticed the damage. He admitted to never feeling any impact from a crash, that he tried to get payment from the van’s owner, and that he filed an insurance claim.