Saying they committed the same types of fraud that led to the mortgage meltdown, federal officials charged five former employees of an Alabama Nissan dealership with conspiracy charges this week.
The FBI announced two former managers and three employees at Serra Nissan in Birmingham were indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly working to fraudulently boost loan approvals and car sales. All were fired when the dealership was alerted to the allegations.
What they're accused of doing is pretty heinous, not to mention blatantly unethical, and it represents the worst of everything people hate about car dealers.
The indictments say the ex-employees created or altered documents sent to financial institutions that boosted the incomes of prospective buyers; told managers and salesmen to submit fraudulent documents to banks to misrepresent proof of their customers' residencies; presented "straw buyers" to banks when the actual buyers couldn't qualify; and, best of all, listed accessories not actually included on their vehicles so a banks would increase the loan amount. This meant more commission for the employees.
Investigators also say the employees gave one customer "an inflated monthly vehicle loan payment so that a finance manager could add a warranty and gap insurance without the customer realizing it." Nice.
The five ex-employees face charges of conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. If convicted on all counts they could face more than 20 years in prison.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Veronica Hyman-Pillot said this in a statement:
"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," she said. "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," Vance said.
It's the second time the feds have handed down indictments related to this dealership. In July, two other Serra Nissan sales managers also pleaded guilty to similar charges.
The dealership sent this response to Automotive News:
Serra Nissan said that when alerted to allegations last year, they launched their own investigation, cooperated with authorities and dismissed employees who had engaged in wrongdoing. They reviewed their procedures and implemented strategies to ensure that they were meeting company values, a statement said.
"We consider integrity a guiding principle of our business, and we take all allegations of improprieties very seriously," the dealership, which has been open for three decades, said in a statement.
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