If there is one thing that characterizes popular American culture, it is con artists. From Charles Ponzi to Anna Sorokin, American history is full of tricksters. However, not all of them have gone to quite the same lengths as William Mize VI, the lead character in a story published this month in New York magazine and the mastermind of a criminal scheme involving his family that managed to swindle millions of dollars from insurance companies.
Between 2006 and 2017, Mize orchestrated over 30 falsified automobile accidents involving his wife, children, nephew and a supporting cast of accomplices interchanging the role of victims and culprits to later come to an arrangement with their insurers. Far from faking the injuries incurred in these accidents with the application of red paint on the bodywork, Mize would cut up his accomplices with a razor or a box cutter, spraying real blood on the vehicles to make the set-ups more credible. He even made them empty a bottle of their own urine over their clothes to make it look as though they had lost consciousness. In exchange, they pocketed $6 million between them.
The author of the New York magazine investigation, Lauren Smiley, describes Mize as an “artist” of dishing out injuries. Operating under several aliases including William Talento, Chad Harris and Phillip Gonzalez, Mize also believed that acting within the confines of the law was for the poor of spirit. Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1961, Mize grew up in the San Francisco suburbs with his mother Eve until in a fit of teenaged rebellion he left home to work as a waiter. On a trip to Idaho, he met Teresa Mastin, a 15-year-old who swiftly became his first wife after she got pregnant.
The family grew larger with the arrival of William Mize II. Mize’s biological father, who had been absent throughout his childhood, was suddenly on the scene. Far from harboring ill-feeling towards his father, Mize called his own son Will is his honor. The newborn would be William Mize V, as his father for some reason decided to skip a generation in his own suffix, preferring to be known as William Mize IV. The family decided to move to the state capital of California, Sacramento, where Mize’s daughter Angela was born in 1984. “Those who came to California were not satisfied, happy, contented people, but adventurous, restless, and daring,” wrote Joan Didion in her 2003 reflection on the history and culture of California, Where I Was From. “They came west not in search of homes and security, but adventure and money.”
True to the Didionesque maxim, fortune soon smiled on Mize. When his father died at the end of the 1980s, he inherited $700,000 and a house in Arizona. With a home, a healthy bank balance, a wife and two kids, Mize could have elected to play out the American suburban dream, but he was not willing to conform to any stereotypes. Coming into money simply made him want more. He became more overbearing in character and increasingly over the top in style, perhaps inspired by one of his biggest idols at the time, Donald Trump.
A con artist is born
Mize’s erratic behavior eventually led to divorce in 1993, after which he moved to Acapulco in Mexico with his two children and set up his first illicit business: trafficking marijuana to the US. It was at this time that he met Sandra “Sandi” Talento, his future life partner and a key player in the family fraud business. Following a few months in a Guadalajara jail for drug possession, Mize returned to the US and took up residence in an ostentatious house in a residential neighborhood in Spokane, Washington. To lend it a façade of baroque glamor, Mize adorned the property by scattering gargoyles around the garden and keeping a chandelier on a rug in the garage, next to his Bentley.
In 2006, Mize launched his career as a professional insurance scammer. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States has the highest level of healthcare expenditure in the world and the astronomical costs incurred by an automobile accident, which can rise to $250,000, open the door to people like Mize to make a profit from a system in crisis.
How exactly did Mize’s scheme work? The supposed victims, after being hospitalized, said they had insurance policies but did not have the paperwork at hand. Later, after they had been discharged, they would return to ask for a bill for the treatment they received and pay it in cash, to receive a discount. Then Mize, using a false name, would act as a representative of the victims to the insurers of those who were supposedly responsible for the accident (who were all in fact members of the clan). Mize would make a deal that was apparently favorable for the insurance company, which would spare them from facing a claim. All of this was accompanied by false invoices to increase the cost of treatments and other claims such as loss of income or damages to property. The result: a steady flow of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One of the first people to sign up for the scam was Mize’s nephew, Ryan Park. To sweeten him up, Mize offered to pay the mortgage on the house he shared with his girlfriend, Kimberly Boito, in exchange for his help with the fraudulent scheme. Coming from a man that Park looked on as a father, it seemed foolproof.
“I just never thought he would screw over someone he loved,” Ryan told New York magazine. Mize was in almost complete control of his life. “If that phone rang, if I didn’t answer it, I’d be in trouble,” he said. In 2015, Mize forced Ryan to chip a tooth with a pair of pliers and spit it out in front of the paramedics after a faked accident. It was the final requirement for Mize to remove his name from the mortgage, releasing Ryan from his shackles.
The plan failed: the insurance company was not going to pay out, Mize told Ryan. It was one of many lies he told his nephew. Mize’s influence was by now ubiquitous. His daughter Angela tried to make a life for herself outside of the family business, but the precariousness of her job at a Los Angeles casino made her feel like a failure. After a failed suicide attempt, Mize offered to help her out financially if she took part in the insurance scams. Angela’s first foray into the criminal world came in 2014, when she pretended to be the driver of a Sebring convertible that her father crashed into a luxurious Mercedes E500. “This is the family that I’m part of, so I might as well just be part of it,” Angela told New York magazine. “This is my fate.” She was paid $100,000 for her role in the Sebring scam. Finally, the entire Mize clan was involved in the scheme.
FBI warrant and federal indictment
Once again, fortune seemed to smile on the Mize family. In 2015, Angela met her future husband. Ryan and Kimberly were married in 2016. The family business was incorporating new members and running as smooth as silk. Mize dedicated his time to meting out cuts, bumps and bruises to make the faked accidents look more credible and force the insurance companies to agree to payouts. The more blood there was, the more shocking the state of the cars, the better. “That was his biggest thing,” Ryan told Smiley. “Blood. Blood. Blood.”
An airlift to hospital or a surgical procedure was a stroke of luck that could reap up a bill of up to $30,000. One of the family’s most memorable accidents involved one of Spokane’s best-known residents, Ron Wells, a millionaire architect and real estate developer. Wells met Mize in 2015 and the pair hit it off through a mutual love of expensive cars. What Wells didn’t know was that within a short time he would be smashing his Dodge Ram 3500 into the back of a boat owned by Mize. The motive? Payment of a $20,000 loan he had asked Mize for and couldn’t afford to give back due to a costly divorce. “What choice did I have? What could I do? It was an easy solution. All I had to do was go along with the script,” Wells told Smiley. Mize was so satisfied with the tangle of metal caused by that crash that he described it as his “Mona Lisa.”
In May 2018, an FBI search warrant arrived. A few months later, a federal jury indicted Mize and 22 accomplices of money laundering and conspiracy to commit health fraud, among other charges. According to a January article in The Spokesman Review, Spokane’s local newspaper, “Mize is alleged to have caused fake car accidents, falls and other accidents in multiple states.” Mize’s multimillion dollar empire finally collapsed in 2019, when all of the conspirators were sentenced. Sandi came off worst, handed a 70-month jail term and three years of judicial supervision, on top of a fine of almost $2 million. After 12 years of acting as what Ryan described as Mize’s financial director, the “brunette beauty of Orange County” was charged on 26 counts.
“Schemes like this cause hard-working American taxpayers to foot the bill by paying higher insurance premiums,” said Special Agent in Charge Justin Campbell. However, like all good con artists, Mize had one final trick up his sleeve. With the authorities closing in, he followed a great American literary tradition and went on the run. “Please understand my options are all very bad, I know I do not want to die in jail,” he wrote to Angela from San Diego.
Far from becoming a nomadic figure worthy of the Beat Generation or fleeing to Alaska, like the protagonist of Into the Wild, the last time Mize was seen was in a liquor store in Nevada in 2020, wearing a Nike polo shirt and with his brown hair slicked back. According to the wanted poster issued by the US Marshals, Mize “likes warm weather, marinas and a lavish lifestyle.” If he is not caught, he could end up moving to Miami or LA. Or even Benidorm in Spain. Anything to avoid spending 20 years in a federal penitentiary.