A joint federal and local investigation, which found that high-end vehicles at Prestige Automobiles were being fraudulently registered to Guam residents who never bought them, then shipped to China, is one of several similar cases the federal government has pursued in recent years, according to court documents.
The local case, filed Dec. 9 with the FBI’s help, alleged that more than 50 cars, including BMWs and Range Rovers, were shipped from Guam to China in 2014 and 2015.
In China, these luxury cars could be sold for double or triple their U.S. value, the Justice Department stated in a civil forfeiture case filed in New York against a vehicle broker.
In the New York case, federal authorities in November 2013 seized $3.7 million from four bank accounts and 20 luxury vehicles, including BMWs and Mercedes Benzes, according to the Justice Department.
The case in Manhattan alleged Efans Trading paid people to pose as buyers of luxury vehicles and made false statements to conceal that the cars were being purchased for immediate export to China, rather than for the use of drivers in the United States, according the Justice Department.
“Automobile manufacturers generally have contractual agreements with their dealerships that new cars made for sale within the United States may not be sold to individuals or companies intending to export the new cars outside the United States,” the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and the New York Field Office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a joint statement.
Unauthorized exports of new vehicles for the U.S. market cause numerous financial problems to the manufacturers by circumventing the manufacturers’ distribution markets, causing market infringement issues, harming franchise dealerships, and complicating the process of vehicle recall registration and service, according to the Justice Department.
In the Guam case, a sales manager of Prestige Automobiles, Orlando “Orly” Domingo, 41, and tax preparer Ana Kristina Absalon, 33, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit identity theft and tampering with public records in connection with the alleged bogus sales of BMWs and Range Rovers to make it appear they were bought by Guam residents.
The vehicles, more than 50, were then shipped to China as brand-new cars in 2014 and 2015, according to the information filed by the local prosecutor in the Guam case.
Prestige Automobiles wasn’t named as a defendant in the local case. Prestige has declined to comment, on the advice of its legal counsel.
Authorities investigated at the dealership in Dededo Friday, but the business has reopened.
Information filed by the local prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Joseph McDonald, outlines alleged efforts by other representatives of Prestige to try to handle the problem after some of the people whose identities were stolen and placed on car registrations found out.
Representatives of Prestige tried to de-register certain vehicles, according to the local complaint.
Absalon formerly was employed with Prestige, in addition to being a tax preparer, according to the information filed with the complaint.
Some of the people whose names were used for the alleged fake car sales had sought her help for filing their tax returns, according to the local complaint.
As part of the alleged fraud, according to the Guam complaint, false insurance contract information was provided to the Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation’s Motor Vehicle Division.
One of the alleged victims of the identity theft found out that his name was used after his application for public assistance was denied. His name turned up as the registered owner of a Range Rover Sport, valued at $73,184, and a BMW X5, which had a purchase price of $60,447. A BMW dealer in Shanghai lists the BMW X5’s starting price at $143,000.
A former customer at Prestige also found out his name was used, without his knowledge, as the buyer of another BMW X5, according to the complaint.
When that customer asked questions, Domingo gave him a document with a Prestige letterhead that states the customer never applied for a vehicle loan, and the car that was in his name had been transferred back to the name of the car dealer earlier this year, according to the local case. However, that car had been shipped to China in 2015, according to the complaint.
There are other people and or companies who may have, in some way, allowed Prestige vehicles to be fraudulently registered, according to the local prosecutor. Those vehicles appear to have been shipped to China also, the prosecutor stated.
The FBI office in Guam was working on responses to questions sent by the Pacific Daily News.
Guam U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco’s office stated her office doesn’t comment on a pending investigation.
Other cases in the states include:
- In California, Frank Hsiao Chien Ku, 31, and Danny Chin Hao Hsu, 33, of West Covina, pled guilty in April 2013 to federal mail fraud charges and violations of U.S. Customs laws for their roles in an illegal scheme to purchase new, high-end vehicles under false pretenses, and unlawfully export them to China for resale at a substantial profit, according to the Justice Department.
- In Baltimore, Maryland, Michael Lee Kelly, 34, was sentenced to 45 months in prison last year for bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft arising from a scheme to buy luxury vehicles using the personal identity information of others. Co-conspirator Michael Christopher Marshall, 35, who was the leader of the scheme, was sentenced to 61 months in prison followed by four years of supervised release for the same offenses, according to the Justice Department. Pacific Daily News