Auto Lending Scams Grow, Prompt Alerts

CUMIS Says Credit Unions Considered Prey Because of Service Focus


A Lexus dealership, sun-soaked Miami Beach, a rogue police officer and nearly a dozen criminal accomplices.

It might sound like the early sketches of a Hollywood action film, but the setting and characters are real.

Last fall, a massive auto lease theft ring was busted wide open, exposing an elaborate fraud arrangement concocted in large part by Tomas Manrique, 51, owner of Wachovia Auto Sales, and Todd Javon Smith Jr., 29, owner of Parelelas Motors, according to law enforcement officials.

All of the accomplices involved in the ring sought out supposed buyers to secure financing from credit unions for cars that had already been bought and moved out of the country or to lease vehicles that were illegally subleased. The buyers would turn the vehicles in to Manrique and Smith who would then lease them to a third party.

One of the accomplices, Marion Mayoli, was allegedly told to submit a false credit application at a Lexus dealership. Miami Beach police officer George Robert Navarro Jr. got involved in the theft ring when he allegedly handed over a vehicle to Smith, one of the leaders of the scheme. While that car was eventually recovered, the lender ended up losing more than $31,000.

In the end, several area credit unions were allegedly defrauded out of $500,000, including Space Coast Credit Union in Melbourne, Fla., according to the police and local media reports. Nine of the 10 suspects were arrested, including Navarro, who at last check, was still fighting the charges after pleading not guilty to several charges. Because there are several players are involved in the car financing process including, dealerships, car shoppers, credit unions and other lenders, the potential for fraud can often leave lenders left with massive financial losses

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