Monday, July 28, 2008
Illinois: Auto dealers convicted on RICO charges; U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced federal racketeering conspiracy convictions against two auto dealers accused of selling luxury cars to gang members and drug dealers and laundering millions of dollars of drug proceeds in phony sales and bank transactions. Two former Chicago auto dealers were convicted of turning their businesses into money-laundering havens for drug-dealing street gangs. Amir Hosseini, 50, of Winnetka and Hossein Obaei, 54, of Northbrook, were immediately taken into custody by marshals after being convicted of dozens of counts of racketeering, money laundering, bank fraud, bribery and structuring deposits to evade federal scrutiny. The two men convicted of 98 criminal charges, may end up getting life terms
At the trial, which began Jan. 22, members of the Gangster Disciples, Black Disciples, Latin Kings and Four Corner Hustlers testified that they used proceeds from sales of heroin and cocaine to buy Jaguars, BMWs, Cadillacs and other luxury vehicles from the two defendants. Prosecutors said Hosseini and Obaei were aware that drug money was paying for the luxury autos. Evidence showed that Hosseini transferred $100,000 of the cash to Iran but prosecutors declined to comment on the reason.When arrested, both men carried American and Iranian passports.
Prosecutors said the two owners and two managers of the three dealerships on the city's West Side had allegedly laundered more than $9 million since 2001. "We're not talking about car dealers who sold cars to people who happened to be drug dealers or sold cars to people despite the fact that they were drug dealers. We're talking about a car dealership that was in the business to cater to people who were drug dealers and gang bangers," Fitzgerald said.
The defendants Amir Hosseini, 48, of Winnetka, described as the owner and operator of Standard Leasing Sales, currently known as Amer Leasing Sales, and a partial owner in SHO Auto Credit; Ruhollah Bambouyani, 54, of California and formerly of Glenview, described as Hosseini's business partner at Standard; and Ramona Rodriguez, 38, of Chicago, described as the finance manager and office manager of both Standard and American Car Exchange.
Prosecutors also charged Hossein Obaei, 52, of Northbrook, who owned and operated American Car Exchange and was a partial owner in SHO Auto Credit. Obaei also was charged with aiding and abetting a cocaine- and heroin-trafficking ring allegedly operated by some of his customers.
Federal agents and Chicago police also seized more than 100 cars from the dealerships and searched the defendants' offices and homes. According to a criminal complaint, the defendants allegedly sold cars to people they knew were drug dealers or gang members in exchange for cash, "knowing that the transactions were designed to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership and control of the proceeds of their customers' drug-trafficking activities."
The drug dealers used cash to buy more than 800 luxury cars, including Mercedes Benz, Jaguar and BMW models, according to prosecutors. Fitzgerald said fake transactions would be created on paper to look as if the cars were bought for less than $10,000 so that required paperwork did not have to be completed. As part of the alleged fraud, prosecutors accuse the defendants of placing liens on cars they sold to drug dealers and gang members, falsely indicating the dealership held security interests in the cars so the defendants could get the cars back if they were seized by law enforcement, prosecutors said.