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Investigation uncovers fraud scheme with used car sales
The Preventing Auto Theft Through Regional Operational Links (PATROL) task force, headed up by Federal Way Police Department Lt. Tracy Grossnickle, announced that an investigation uncovered an unusual fraud scheme involving the sales of used cars.
According to PATROL and the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL), Antonio Lopez Miranda, 56, and his son Antonio Lopez, 36, who own T&C Auto Sales in SeaTac and T&C Wrecking in Seattle, are alleged to have forged the necessary documents for used car sales by making the sales appear as "gifts." This sidesteps the need to pay the state excise tax on such sales.
Along with that, two employees of the White Center DOL Licensing Subagent center in Seattle, 49-year-old Karen Simmons and 54-year-old Lou Ann Myer of Tukwila, are alleged to have allowed the processing of these fraudulent documents in their work at the licensing business.
"The owners of T&C are Hispanic, and they speak fluent Spanish," Grossnickle said in a press conference May 23. "The vast majority of these transactions were conducted with Hispanic (immigrants). Basically, they would come to (T&C), and bring the paperwork to them. The employees at (T&C) would request their information and the title information and then tell the people…(the necessary paperwork would) get back to them. As far as they were aware, they'd get their registration, tabs and plates. Everything appeared legitimate. Several people we talked to had no clue and in no way had ever given their consent to have the car gifted."
Grossnickle said T&C would charge those people a fee. The suspects are then alleged to have forged power of attorney paperwork and the gifting paperwork.
While the extent and duration of the fraud is unknown at this time, Grossnickle gave an example of a $5,000 car. In that instance, the excise tax would be approximately $400 to $450. With a thousand such sales, the potential for the state being defrauded of significant amounts of money is high.
"(They) were making quite a bit of money," Grossnickle noted.
In a turn of events, the two women accused of allowing the processing of the fraudulent paperwork do not appear to have been working in concert with the other two suspects, Grossnickle said. Instead, their motivation was a simple bonus system at their place of work, where they would be rewarded for the number of transactions they'd process.
"The subagents were not taking money from the father/son (team)," he said. "Initially, we thought that was what was occurring. According to the subagent employees, they were just taking bonuses from their employee. In an indirect way…they were conducting fraud for monetary gain, on both sides."
According to Grossnickle, the investigation is still ongoing and may take some time, as investigators pore over records dating back as far as 2007.
All suspects were interviewed and released from the Kent Jail on May 22, pending official charges. A third suspect from the DOL subagency business is still at large.