If anything characterizes American popular culture, it’s its swindlers. From Charles Ponzi to Anna Sorokin, American history (and its streaming platforms, always ready to tell the same story again with improved aesthetics) is riddled with tricksters. However, not everyone goes as far as William Mize IV —protagonist of a report published this month in New York magazine signed by Lauren Smiley—, head of a plan with which, together with his family, he swindled millions from companies insurers.
Between 2006 and 2017, Mize orchestrated more than thirty false car accidents with his wife, children, nephew and a small clan of relatives, exchanging the role of victim and culprit to later close an agreement with the insurance companies. Far from faking the injuries of the victims by spreading a jet of red paint on the bodywork, Mize cut his collaborators with a blade or a cutter, spattering the vehicle with blood so that the pantomime would be credible. He even made them empty a bottle of their own urine to make it look like they had passed out. In exchange, they pocketed six million dollars.
The injury artist
Mize, according to Smiley’s research, was an “injury artist.” Also known as William Talento, Chad Harris or Phillip Gonzalez, he always thought that acting within the limits of the law was for the poor in spirit. Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1961, Mize grew up on the outskirts of San Francisco with his single mother, Eve, until, in a fit of adolescent rebellion, he left the family home and began working as a waiter, as the New York publication. Traveling in Idaho, famous for its 19th-century gold mines and fortune hunters, he met Teresa Mastin, a 15-year-old teenager who became his first wife shortly after she became pregnant.
The family grew with the arrival of William Mize II. His biological father, until then absent, burst into his life. And far from holding a grudge against him, Mize also called his son Will in his honor (it would be William Mize V; for some reason our protagonist wanted to be called William Mize IV, skipping a generation). In a possible burst of California nostalgia, the family headed to Sacramento, the state capital, where their daughter Angela was born in 1984. “Those who came to California were not content, happy, and content people, but adventurous, restless, and daring people,” he wrote. Joan Didion, a native of the Californian capital, in Where am I from. “They didn’t come west looking for homes and safety, but adventure and money.”
Honoring the Didi’s maxim, fortune soon granted Mize the money. It was in the form of her father’s inheritance when he passed away in the late 1980s: $700,000 and a house in Arizona. With a wife, a house and two children, Mize could have dedicated himself to embodying the ideal of the American suburban family, but he was not about to conform to any standard. He already had money, he just wanted more. His character became authoritarian and his personal style became increasingly ornate, perhaps inspired by the rise of one of his greatest idols of the time: Donald Trump.
Panoramic view of the city of El Paso, Texas, where William Mize IV was born. Sandy Huffaker (Getty Images)
This erratic behavior ended up ending his marriage and in 1993 Mize left everything to move to Acapulco with his two children, where he started his first business outside the law: marijuana trafficking to the United States. It was during this period that he met Sandra Sandi Talento, his future life partner and an indispensable player in the family fraud business. After spending a few months in a jail in Guadalajara, Mexico, after being detained at the airport with drugs on him, Mize returned to the United States and settled in an ostentatious house in a suburb of Spokane, Washington. To give it a façade of baroque glamour, Mize spared no expense, scattering gargoyles around the garden and placing a chandelier on top of a rug in the garage near his Bentley.
The scammer is born
In 2006 Mize began his career as a professional insurance fraudster. According to the OECD, the United States is the first country of its organization in health spending, and the high medical costs that an automobile emergency entails (up to 250,000 dollars) open the door to people who, like Mize, try to profit from a system in crisis.
How exactly did it work? The alleged victims would claim, at the hospital, to be covered by insurance, but not to have their policies handy. Later, already recovered, they returned to ask for an invoice for their treatments and pay them in cash, which meant a discount. Mize then, under a false name, acted as the alleged victims’ insurance representative for those allegedly responsible for the accident (all, in fact, part of his clan) and agreed to a supposedly lucrative insurance deal that would save them from a demand. All this accompanied by falsified invoices to raise treatments and other claims such as loss of income or property damage. The result? A rain of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One of the first to join the business was Ryan Park, Mize’s nephew. To lure him in, his uncle offered to pay the entire mortgage on the house he shared with his girlfriend Kimberly Boito in exchange for his contributing to the scams. Coming from someone Ryan thought of as a father, it seemed like a seamless plan.
“I never thought that [Mize] would screw someone he loved,” the boy told New York magazine. Things soon changed. Mize increasingly controlled his life. “If the phone rang and he didn’t answer, he would have problems,” he laments in the American publication. In 2015, Mize made him pull out a piece of his tooth with pliers and spit it out in front of paramedics treating him after a staged accident. It was the last requirement for Mize to remove his name from the mortgage, freeing her from his shackles.
The plan failed: the insurance company was not going to pay them, the patriarch said. One of the many lies he told to whom, as a child, he affectionately called him “Uncle Bill”. Mize’s influence was ubiquitous. Angela, her daughter, tried to forge a life outside the family business, but the precariousness of her job in a Las Vegas casino made her feel like a failure. After a suicide attempt, Mize helped her financially on the condition that she participate in her fraud. Sheathed in yoga pants, Angela began her criminal career in 2014, pretending to be the driver of a convertible Chrysler Sebring – a mid-size model – that her father had built into a luxurious Mercedes E500. “This is the family I was born into,” laments the young woman in the report. “This is my destiny”. Angela received $100,000 in compensation.
The search file for William Mize IV, who is still on the run from justice.
Once again, fortune seemed to smile on the Mize clan. In 2015, she Angela met the man she would eventually marry. Ryan and Kimmy celebrated their wedding in 2016. The family business was gaining new members and running smoothly. Mize was dedicated to handing out cuts, bumps and bruises to make accidents more believable and attract payments from insurance companies. The more gore, the bloodier, the more shocking the state of the car, the better. “That was the most important thing to him,” Ryan told New York magazine. “Blood, blood, blood.”
A helicopter ride to the airport or surgery was a windfall that could earn them close to $30,000. One of his most memorable accidents included a cameo appearance by a local celebrity: Ron Wells, an architect and real estate developer from Spokane. The millionaire, native of North Carolina, met Mize in 2015 and they soon connected thanks to their mutual interest in luxury cars. Little did Wells know, he would soon be smashing his massive Dodge Ram 3500 pickup into the back of a speedboat owned by Mize. The reason? A $20,000 loan payment that he couldn’t afford due to an expensive divorce.
“I was going to do?” Wells told Lauren Smiley. “It was an easy fix.” Mize would be so satisfied with the mass of grayish iron resulting from that crash that he would define it as his Mona Lisa.
In May 2018, a search warrant arrived from the FBI. A few months later, a federal jury indicted Mize and his 22 accomplices on, among other charges, money laundering and health care fraud conspiracy. According to The Spokesman Review, the local Spokane newspaper, “Mize is allegedly at fault in car accidents, falls and other accidents in multiple states.” The millionaire empire of the Mize clan ended up going bankrupt in 2019, with all its members sentenced. Sandi was the worst stop. The judge imposed a prison sentence of 70 months and three years of judicial supervision, in addition to a fine of more than 2 million dollars. After 12 years building a business for which Ryan said she was the financial director, the “brown beauty from Orange County” ended up guilty of 26 counts.
“Scams like this cause America’s hard-working taxpayers to pay higher insurance premiums,” said Special Agent Justin Campbell. As a good faker, Mize had one last ace up his sleeve. Cornered by justice, he followed one of the greatest American literary traditions: eloping to live an anonymous life across the country. “Please understand that all my options are very bad,” he wrote his daughter Angela from San Diego. “I don’t want to die in jail.”
Far from becoming a nomadic figure of the Beat Generation or escaping to Alaska, like the protagonist of Into the Wild, the last time Mize was seen, in a Nevada liquor store in early 2020, he was wearing a blue polo shirt. Nike and combed brown hair. According to the search and seizure cartel distributed by the United States Marshals Corps, Mize likes “warm climates, marinas and a luxurious lifestyle.” If they don’t catch him sooner, he might end up moving to Miami or Los Angeles. Even to Benidorm. Anything before spending more than 20 years in federal prison.