Last week, landscapers discovered an unidentified car buried in the yard of a $15 million mansion in Atherton, California. If you read that story and got the feeling something criminal had to have happened, you weren’t alone. We felt the same way. While we still don’t know exactly what happened, new information seems to confirm our initial suspicions were far from unfounded.
NBC Bay Area reports that the car, a Mercedes convertible that appears to be a 1990s SL, is out of the ground and currently being examined for any evidence that may point to what actually happened. Police say they still don’t know why the car was buried, but KRON4 says it was reported stolen in 1992. So insurance fraud seems likely, although it’s possible the insurance fraud was connected to another crime.
That’s not the most exciting update in the world, but the information that’s come out about the house’s former owner, Johnny Bocktune Lew? That’s very, very interesting.
Lew, who died in 2015 at the age of 77, had a criminal history and at one point reportedly told police he was involved in organized crime. Not only was he arrested for allegedly murdering his girlfriend in the ‘60s, he was later convicted of the attempted murder of another person in 1977.
He wasn’t a stranger to insurance fraud, either. In 1999, he was arrested for planning to sink his yacht (because of course he had a yacht) to claim the insurance money. At the time, it was possibly “the largest single case of insurance fraud the state has seen.”
Lew recruited people from San Joaquin County to destroy his yacht, a sleek vessel more than 50 feet long, officials said.
“We’re not giving all the exact details,” said Scott Edelen, spokesman for the Department of Insurance. “It was in San Joaquin County where the terrorist threats occurred. He said if anyone divulged his scheme, he would have them killed or kill them.”
Lew allegedly offered $50,000 cash to have the vessel, which was housed at the Redwood City Marina, taken to international waters west of the Golden Gate and sunk. He hooked up with undercover fraud investigators, who agreed to take care of his boat, authorities said.
“The staging of the theft was taken care of,” Edelen said. “They drove it out of the marina and brought it back in under cover of darkness and put it in storage for evidence.”
Lew was in China at the time of the staging, and when he returned, he assumed the yacht had been destroyed, Edelen said. Lew allegedly paid $30,000 to the insurance-fraud investigators and reported the yacht stolen.
The same article also clarifies that Lew claimed to be associated with the Chinese Triad syndicate and that he spent a total of six years in jail for his previous two convictions.
If you’re thinking committing insurance fraud on a Mercedes is pretty low stakes for a guy who owned a multi-million-dollar yacht. You’re not alone. “I think it’s crazy. How could you have a place like this? Property values so high, and you’re scamming like, I don’t know, $8,000 car. It just doesn’t make any sense,” one Atherton resident told NBC Bay Area.
Considering all of Lew’s other crimes, it sounds like the dude has a point. All signs point to more crimes (beyond basic insurance fraud).