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2 charged in exported vehicles scheme

2 charged in exported vehicles scheme

August 11th, 2011 by JOSH FUNK, Associated Press in News

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Two people who authorities believe helped buy more than 300 vehicles with phony titles and improperly export them are now facing federal fraud charges.

The vehicle-export scheme involving a former salesman at an Omaha car dealership, the owner of a Kansas trucking company and a vehicle broker in Missouri is outlined in the indictment against the salesman and trucking company owner that was filed this week.

Authorities say this group purchased roughly 342 vehicles fraudulently at least six different dealerships in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Ohio. Nearly 200 of the vehicles came from the Huber dealership in west Omaha, and many of the vehicles were Hummers but several vehicle makes were included in the fraud.

Investigators traced the vehicles to Nigeria, Germany, Canada, Japan and other countries in violation of the contract agreements between car dealers and manufacturers. That sometimes triggered financial penalties for the car dealers.

And the fraudulent titles helped the buyers improperly collect incentives from vehicle manufacturers, including more than $500,000 in unearned incentives from General Motors related to vehicles sold by the Huber dealership in 2005 and 2006.

Both people charged this week are facing 11 counts of wire fraud and one charge of conspiracy, according to court documents.

FBI agent Andy Thomure said former Huber salesman Steve Romshek was arrested Tuesday and made his initial appearance in federal court Wednesday. A phone listing for Romshek in Omaha was disconnected Wednesday, and his attorney did not immediately respond to a message.

Marilyn Maskill, who owns Corporate Auto Movers trucking company in Overland Park, Kan., had not been arrested as of Wednesday morning. No one answered the phone at her business Wednesday and the voicemail system was full. She did not immediately respond to an email.

The owners of the Missouri car brokerage involved in the scheme, Patrice and Ed Robertson, were not charged this week, but the indictment talks extensively about their business' involvement.

The Robertsons' lawyer, Jim Wyrsch of Kansas City, Mo., declined to comment on the case Wednesday.

Ron Huber said his Omaha dealership cooperated with investigators and settled the matter with General Motors and regulators several years ago.

"As far as we're concerned, it's way behind us," Huber said.

The Huber dealership paid a $100,000 fine in 2008 to a state licensing board but did not admit wrongdoing and was allowed to continue operating. The fine was the largest ever ordered by the Nebraska Vehicle Industry Licensing Board.

Prosecutors say in court documents that the Robertsons' businesses in Chillicothe bought 179 vehicles from Huber in 2005 and 2006. The other purchases included 79 vehicles bought from Husker Auto Group in Lincoln; 51 vehicles bought from Midwestern Auto Group in Dublin, Ohio; 32 vehicles from Aristocrat Motors in Merriam, Kan.; 23 vehicles from Town & Country Motors in Sedalia, Mo.; and 12 vehicles from Joe Machens Toyota in Columbia, Mo.

Most of those were vehicles were then resold to Ace Auto Sales of San Gabriel, Calif., Toronto Auto Wholesale of Ontario, Canada, and LOR Enterprises LLC of St. Petersburg, Fla., and exported.

Court documents describe several instances when the people involved in the scheme tried to deceive car dealers and conceal the fact that the vehicles were being exported.

The Nebraska State Patrol launched its investigation in 2006 after several Hummers sold by Huber, ostensibly to local buyers, were not registered in the state.