BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A sales manager, finance manager and three salespeople who either work for, or previously worked for, Serra Nissan are facing federal charges in connection with a scheme at the dealership to fraudulently boost loan approvals and car sales.
Scott Burton, 36, of Odenville, Michael J. Wilkinson, 56, of Moody, Dwight A. Perry, 44, of Birmingham, Terry W. Henderson, Jr., 39, of Pleasant Grove, and Roland W. Riley, 28, of Birmingham were indicted by a federal grand jury in late September on charges of conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity-theft charges. A federal judge unsealed the indictment after the defendants were arrested Oct. 1 and appeared in court.
"As managers and salesmen in a car dealership, these defendants falsified customer information used to make loans, defrauding the banks who trusted the dealership to present truthful information during the vehicle financing process, and harming customers by fraudulently inflating the value of the vehicles they purchased," said U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance in a statement. "This type of fraud is the auto-industry equivalent of the mortgage fraud that contributed to the financial meltdown, and could threaten the security of our financial markets.”
The 11-count indictment charges the defendants with conspiring with others at the dealership to defraud financial institutions, Nissan North America and Serra Nissan customers by fraudulently increasing vehicle sales in order to boost personal profits. The investigation centered on the period between August 2010 and October 2013,,
The indictment also charges Wilkinson, Burton, Perry and Riley with bank fraud for fraudulent loan information submitted to financial institutions in October 2012. Defendants Wilkinson, Perry and Henderson also are charged with wire fraud for fraudulent information submitted to automotive financing companies such as Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation and Santander Consumer USA.
The final count of the indictment charges Perry and Henderson with aggravated identity theft for the unlawful use of a customer's Alabama-issued personal identification card during the commission of bank and wire fraud, and the conspiracy to commit those crimes.
“This case is significant to the FBI, not merely because of the loss amounts, but also because of the many victims left in the wake of this scheme who had trusted the defendants with handling their vehicle financing,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr.
The indictment of these five defendants follows federal charges filed earlier this year against two other sales managers at Serra Nissan, Abdul Islam Mughal and Gerald R. Shepard. Mughal, 48, of Trussville, pleaded guilty in July to conspiring with others, including Serra Nissan salesmen, general managers, sales managers and finance managers, to sell more cars by falsifying loan documents. Mughal also pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud for submitting falsified loan documents to financial institutions between January 2012 and October 2013. Mughal is scheduled to be sentenced on May 5, 2015.
According to the indictment, the five defendants and other members of the conspiracy participated in various means to carry out their fraud and obtain auto loans that, otherwise, would not have been approved. Those means included the following:
- Creating or altering documents to submit to financial institutions to show inflated income for prospective buyers.
- Directing finance managers and salesmen to submit fraudulent documents to financial institutions to misrepresent proof of a customer's residency.
- Listing accessories not actually included on a vehicle so a financial institution would increase its loan amount. The defendants and others had a financial incentive to increase a loan amount in order to increase commissions paid to certain employees.
- Presenting straw buyers, who could qualify for a loan, to financial institutions when the actual buyer could not qualify.
The defendants and others also defrauded customers and financial institutions by quoting a customer an inflated monthly vehicle loan payment so that a finance manager could add a service contract and GAP insurance without the customer realizing it, according to the indictment.