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FEDS: CRASH SCAM WAS BASED HERE

The owner of a now-defunct auto body shop on Pearl Street in Red Bank was the ringleader of an alleged insurance scam that led to federal indictments yesterday of 11 people in three states, authorities contend.

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John Cotona, 38, of Marlboro was arrested on insurance fraud charges stemming from what U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in Newark contends were staged auto accidents, including at least five reported to Red Bank police in 2004.

Also among seven arrested yesterday were Cotona’s wife, Vincenza Girone, 35; his brother, Vincent G. Cotona, 43, a restaurateur in New York; and Shawn P. Streberger, 37, of Red Bank. Four other defendants were being sought.

The indictment alleges a scheme involving the use of staged car accidents in New Jersey and New York. Insurance companies were said to have been scammed out of more than $1 million with the help of auto shops run by John Cotona, who feds say used the alias ‘John Bruno,’ and Streberger, which submitted falsified invoices.

Cotona’s auto body shop, Perfect Touch Auto Body Repair, was at 29 Pearl Street and Streberger-owned Shawn’s Auto Body was at 39 Pearl, according to the indictment.

Monmouth County property records show a Shawn Streberger owns a property at 31 Pearl Street in Red Bank.

Money-laundering and bank fraud charges were also brought against five of the defendants. In addition, John Cotona was also charged with witness tampering. He’s alleged to have tried to “corruptly persuade” an individual identified in the indictment as U.D. to help thwart the feds’ investigation last March.

Though U.D.’s full name is not given, it seems the feds don’t mind if anyone finds out who he is, because the indictment says he was “at all times the owner of 74 Wallace Street” in Red Bank. County records identify the owner of that property as Umberto G. Di Fiore.

The Asbury Park Press has additional details and a photo of Cotona’s former shop.

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