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Brothers sentenced in staged car accidents

A pair of brothers will be jailed for 30 days on a racketeering conviction connected to nearly 40 alleged cases of staged car crashes designed to collect insurance payments.

On Tuesday in Cass County District Court, Sead Mustafic, 44, and Senad Mustafic, 25, gave Alford pleas to a charge of illegal control of an enterprise, a Class B felony. All other charges the brothers faced, felony theft among them, were dismissed.

An Alford plea means the defendant is agreeing there is enough evidence for a jury to convict, but it is not an admission of guilt.

An investigator from the North Dakota Insurance Department said the brothers purposely got expensive vehicles into accidents that would likely make the other driver at fault.

Often they would speed into a turning lane after the other car had activated a turning signal, typically targeting younger female or elderly drivers in high-traffic areas, according to Joe Pittman, an insurance department investigator.

After the accidents, the Mustafics were accused of exacerbating the damages, rubbing a car's paint with a brick in one case, according to Pittman's report.

Court records allege the brothers were involved in a total of 37 accidents identified as suspicious, collecting claims typically ranging from $1,000 to $7,000.

Cheri Clark, an assistant Cass County state's attorney, requested an identical sentence for both men: 360 days of jail with all but 30 of those days suspended, as well as 1½ years of supervised probation.

Steve Mottinger, defense attorney, argued for no jail time, saying the brothers had learned their lessons and were cooperative.

But Cass County District Court Judge Steven McCullough said he felt the state recommendation, which he accepted, was plenty favorable already.

"There needs to be some sort of sanction," he said. "Quite frankly, I think you folks are getting off lucky."

The brothers are Bosnian immigrants, though their mother is a U.S. citizen, and could face deportation for the felony convictions.

Mottinger said he consulted with an immigration attorney in the Twin Cities who said the convictions shouldn't count as aggravated felonies - a category of crime prompting automatic deportation under federal immigration law.

McCullough said he did not think either man would be deported, either.

However, Mottinger said he was worried that the 30-day jail stint would allow federal agents enough time to transfer them to a facility where they could be held until the deportation possibility is studied.

"It can take months before those situations are resolved," Mottinger said.

Clark said prosecutors didn't consider the possible immigration consequences in negotiating a plea deal. The larger issue was the potential cost of a trial requiring a long list of witnesses, she said.

The Mustafics are jointly responsible for about $630 in restitution, which is for co-payments drivers made on the claims in question.

Clark said there was no restitution requested for the insurance companies, in part because the companies seemed to ignore the pattern of apparent fraud.

"They turned a blind eye, for whatever reason," she said.