The Owner of a Mercedes-Benz Car Reported it was Stolen after Burying the Vehicle at a Bay Area Mansion and Collected $87,000 in Insurance

A man suspected of being involved in the most extensive insurance fraud scheme in San Joaquin County’s history reported a Mercedes-Benz that had been buried on his property as stolen in 1992 and received payment from the insurance company for its value.

San Mateo County DA Steve Wagstaffe told the San Jose Mercury News that Johnny Bocktune Lew, the builder of the $15 million Atherton mansion where the car was discovered last week, reported the Mercedes-Benz stolen in 1992 and received $87,000 in insurance on the vehicle.

Wagstaffe told the paper, “This book has 15 chapters, and we’ve only got two chapters.” We may not get the remaining chapters, but I hope we do. The property was sold in 2014, and Lew passed away in Washington the following year. Wagstaffe said the 77-year-old man had not interacted with law enforcement since the late 1990s when his sunken yacht scheme fell through. Lew passed away in 2015.

In Atherton’s wealthy Silicon Valley community, landscapers discovered a convertible Mercedes-Benz stuffed with bags of new concrete last week. Police said in a statement that three times cadaver dogs alerted them “slightly” to the presence of possible human remains.

On Saturday, a tow truck removed the vehicle from the residence and delivered it to the San Mateo County Crime Lab for further investigation. The department announced in a press release that ground-penetrating radar was used to investigate the scene on Sunday.
No human remains were found, and the investigation turned up nothing unusual or suspicious.

The department noted that their “on-scene investigation” had been completed. Before the current owners bought the house, investigators believe, the car was buried in the four or five feet deep backyard.

Lew, a man with a nefarious past of murder and fraud

Lew was a career criminal with multiple convictions for murder, attempted murder, and insurance fraud. Officials said he incited residents of San Joaquin County to destroy his yacht—a sleek vessel measuring more than 50 feet in length—in 1999. San Joaquin County authorities told The Record in 1999 that he allegedly paid undercover officers $30,000 in cash and gold watches worth $20,000 to sink a $1.2 million yacht as part of an insurance fraud scheme.

Lew was convicted of killing a 21-year-old woman in Los Angeles County in the 1960s. In 1968, he was freed after the California Supreme Court overturned his conviction because the prosecution improperly introduced hearsay evidence. According to the court records cited by the Chronicle, in 1977, Lew was convicted of two counts of attempted murder, also in Los Angeles County, and spent three years in prison.

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