Sample Government's Reply to Defendant's Sentencing Memorandum (part 1)
| The United States, by and through its attorneys, the United States Attorney's Office and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Consumer Litigation, hereby submits its reply to the sentencing memorandum filed by defendant XXXX X. XXXXX. This memorandum addresses the defendant's objections to the presentence report set forth in his sentencing memorandum. By his absence of objections as to certain guidelines issues, there remains no disagreement between the parties that the presentence report is accurate in its determination that upward adjustments apply for XXXX's role as the organizer/leader of the conspiracy, and for obstruction of justice. The United States respectfully recommends that the Court accept the facts, offense level computations, and guidelines range contained in the revised presentence report and addendum thereto.
I. Factual Background
On December 12, 1994, the United States filed an Information against defendant XXXXX X. XXXXX, Sr., and seven other defendants involved in the same conspiracy. The Informations were filed incident to plea agreements signed between these defendants and the United States. All charges stemmed from an odometer rollback scheme. XXXXX X. XXXXX, the mastermind of the conspiracy, was charged with four felony counts:
On January 4, 1995, the defendant pled guilty to the counts charged in the Information.
XXXXX X. XXXXX, has been in the used car business in New Jersey and Pennsylvania for over thirty years. He has conducted business under a variety of names, including XXXX XXXXX Autos, XXXXX XXXXX Leasing, and XXX Motors. Off and on for the past twenty years, XXXXX has not dealt directly with the public, but has purchased and sold vehicles at wholesale.
Since 1988, XXXXX recruited various individuals to set up "straw" dealerships, through which he would buy high-mileage vehicles, roll back their odometers, and resell them. By hiring these other individuals, XXXXX sought to insulate himself from prosecution. These "straw" dealerships included XXXXXX Motors, XXXXXX Motors, XXX Motors, XXX Motors, XXXX XXXXXX XXXXX, and XX Leasing. The sole purpose of the dealerships set up by XXXXX was to sell cars with altered odometers and, with very few exceptions, the cars bought and/or sold by these dealerships were sold with altered odometers.
The used motor vehicles were purchased from leasing companies, wholesale car dealers, or at wholesale automobile auctions in a number of states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Similarly, the vehicles were sold at auctions or to car dealerships in these and other states. The used cars sold by XXXXX have ended up in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, and as far away as Kentucky.
XXXXX gave direction to his co-conspirators, deciding what cars to purchase, how much to pay for them, and how far to roll back their odometers. He also recruited individuals to roll back the odometers of these vehicles and to falsify the title documents to show false low mileage on the titles. He directed these co-conspirators and paid them for their work. In short, he was in control of the conspiracy.
XXXXX's basic scheme was to recruit individuals to apply for an automobile dealership license, open a bank account, rent office space, and set up a telephone line. XXXXX financed these dealerships. He controlled the bank accounts by having the "straws" sign blank checks and turn them over to him. The "straws" bought cars, often with very close supervision from XXXXX, and took those cars to an individual who took mileage off (i.e., "spun" or "clocked") the odometers. The titling documents were generally taken to XXXXX himself, who altered them to reflect the new, false low-mileage on the odometers. This work was essential to business, because mileage is recorded on the title or title reassignment upon sale of a car. Thus, when an odometer is rolled back, title documents relating to the car have to be altered to reflect the false low mileage.
In order to resell a car with falsified documents, XXXXX went to great lengths to provide documentation in order to retitle a car in New Jersey with low mileage. For example, he used a typewriter with many different removable typeface elements, possessed phony notary seals, and printed letterhead stationery in the names of legitimate leasing companies. This enabled him to request duplicate titles from the State of New Jersey as if he were a previous owner of the car who had lost or accidentally destroyed the original title. Because these duplicate titles had no entries to indicate that ownership had been transferred, XXXXX could "jump," or eliminate, companies he controlled from the title history. Most importantly, a false low mileage could be entered, eliminating the need to alter a printed odometer figure on a title. However, most titles were in fact physically altered, using erasers, correction fluid, pens, or the typewriter. XXXXX also used a sales tax stamp to obliterate the last number on mileage placed on a vehicle's title, then added a new number to the front of the mileage number. For example, a vehicle purchased by one of the entities XXXXX controlled had 60,360 miles when it was purchased, but when the title was surrendered to the State of New Jersey, it reflected 16,036 miles.[FN1]
Another way XXXXX sold clocked cars was to retitle vehicles purchased by his companies in the names of other dealers, from whom he leased dealer tags, or simply used their names. In some of these instances, XXXXX would pay another dealer for the use of its dealer tags, so that a vehicle could be retitled, and resold at auction, in that dealer's name. On other occasions, XXXXX used another dealer's name to retitle cars, but not necessarily with its permission or knowledge. Examination of title records for vehicles purchased by XXXXX's companies, as well as the bank records for those companies, show XXXXX retitling and selling vehicles in the names of XXX Motors, XXX XXXX's Auto Service, XXX Automotive Specialists, Inc., XXX Motor Sales, and XX Car Sales, among others.
After a new title was obtained, the cars were then resold by the "straws," who falsely represented to the buyers that the false, low mileage was the vehicles' true mileage. XXXXX's link to these dealerships is confirmed by bank and telephone records and by testimony and information from witnesses.
In his plea agreement, XXXXX stipulated that he was involved with the purchase and sale of at least 1600 "clocked" cars. This is a conservative estimate of the cars involved in the conspiracy.
II. There is Ample Support for the Fraud Loss Amount Set Forth in the Presentence Report
Section 2F1.1(b)(1) provides for an increase in the offense level based on the amount of loss contemplated by a scheme or course of conduct such as that here.[FN2] Further, the amount of "loss need not be determined with precision." Application Note 8. Rather, a "reasonable estimate" is contemplated, given "available information." Id.
In this case, the amount of loss is estimated by multiplying a figure representing the average loss per victim by the number of cars with rolled back odometers.
A. Average Loss Per Victim - $4,000
The loss to the ultimate purchaser of each car defendants sold with a rolled odometer can be conservatively estimated as $4,000.As indicated above, the guidelines contemplate determining the amount of loss on the basis of reasonable estimates of loss per victim. Guideline 2F1.1, Application Note 8; see, e.g., United States v. Tardiff, 969 F.2d 1283, 1288 (1st Cir. 1992). Since November 1, 1991, the guidelines have clarified how this estimate is to be accomplished in consumer fraud cases as this. Application Note 7(a) provides: "In a case involving a misrepresentation concerning the quality of a consumer product, the loss is the difference between the amount paid by the victim for the product and the amount for which the victim could resell the product received."[FN3]
1. Odometer Fraud Robs Consumers of Much of the Value of a Vehicle for Which the Consumers Paid
a. Loss of the Opportunity for Resale
When the odometer on a motor vehicle is altered, and the vehicle resold, it becomes impossible to know the vehicle's true mileage. As a result, such vehicles must be sold with notice to the buyer of an odometer discrepancy. See 15 U.S.C. § 1988(a) [amended and recodified after July 5, 1994, at 49 U.S.C. § 32705(a)], and 49 C.F.R. Part 580.[FN4] Not surprisingly, consumers resist purchasing cars branded as having an odometer discrepancy, which diminishes their value dramatically. Many consumers interpret a mileage discrepancy as connoting that a car's odometer has been "clocked" or "spun." Once a consumer believes that one aspect of a car has been misrepresented, the consumer's confidence in the reliability of all other aspects of the vehicle naturally are diminished as well.
Application Note 7, U.S.S.G. § 2F1.1, notes that the valuation of loss discussion in the Commentary to U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1 applies. See United States v. Wilson, 900 F.2d 1350, 1356 (9th Cir. 1990). Guideline 2B1.1, Application Note 2, notes that ordinarily fair market value of property taken is used to evaluate a loss. However, where the "market value is difficult to ascertain or inadequate to measure harm to the victim, the court may measure loss in some other way, such as reasonable replacement cost to the victim." Thus the Court is not obligated to calculate a precise fair market value for the TMU cars, and may consider replacement cost.
By way of example, the government is aware of several cars involved in this case where, once notified that their car had an altered odometer, the consumer victims returned to the retail dealer. In some cases, the dealers bought back the cars; in others the dealers and consumers negotiated a price for compensation, sometimes as high as $6,000. Where the dealer purchased the car back from the consumer, the car was usually resold "TMU" at auction, for a price substantially less than the wholesale price when the car was offered at its rolled-back mileage.
In one instance, a 1992 Ford Taurus with 60,089 miles was purchased by B&R Leasing in April 1993 for $9,000. A dealer in New York purchased the vehicle at auction for $11,100, purportedly with 16,217 miles. That dealer retailed it to a customer for $12,975. When the customer discovered that the odometer had been rolled back, the dealer bought it back, and the vehicle was returned to the auction where it had been sold by XXXXX's co-conspirators. In July 1994 it was resold at the same auction "TMU," and was purchased there for $6,500. On another occasion, in June 1993 B&R Leasing purchased a 1992 Dodge Caravan with 60,360 miles for $11,300. XXXXX's co-conspirators sold the Caravan at a wholesale auction to a dealer for $12,850, and it was subsequently retailed for $15,495. Shortly after the consumer purchased the vehicle it was discovered that the odometer had been rolled back, and the vehicle was returned to the auction. The auction reimbursed the dealer, then resold the Caravan "TMU" to another dealer for $9,450. Thus it can be seen that a "TMU" car's value is greatly diminished due to the questionable mileage.
Given that many defrauded purchasers of cars with rolled-back odometers could be unable to sell their cars at all, this would translate into a consumer loss figure that equals the consumer's full purchase price of the used vehicle.[FN5] In comparison to this amount, a loss figure of only $4,000 as offered by the government is an extremely conservative means of calculating loss under Application Note 7(a).
b. Loss of the Vehicle's Use
The average life of a car typically is approximately 113,000 miles.[FN6] A consumer purchasing a used vehicle, based on experience, expects that the life of the vehicle will be in this range, and believes that he or she is purchasing the remaining miles in the car's life. An odometer rollback, therefore, effectively defrauds the consumer of a significant portion of the apparent remaining life of the car.
Consumers were paying on average approximately $10,206 for these cars. This is based on retail price information on 113 of the 257 vehicles sampled. In most, but not all cases, the price does not include sales tax, dealer prep charges, extended warranty plans, or other extra charges a consumer may have incurred when purchasing the vehicle. In addition, this information spans a time frame of five years, the earliest sales data being from November 1988, and the most recent from July 1993. As with most retail purchases, prices increase from year to year.
Thus, since consumers were receiving only a small percentage of the useful miles that appeared from the false odometer reading to be remaining before the car reached life expectancy, it follows that a large percentage of their purchase price was fraudulently obtained.
c. Actual Expenses
One approach to showing consumer loss is to look at the types of actual expenses a consumer pays as a direct result of this type of fraud. A typical rollback in this scheme was 38,823 miles. The impact of such a rollback on the wholesale price of a vehicle of the type defendants bought and sold (generally large American made cars) alone totals nearly $4,000.[FN7] The cost of the fraud to consumers who paid retail prices for these cars was even greater.
FN8. See Att. A, Morse Declaration, ¶ 7.
(i) Maintenance Costs: increased maintenance costs are not always reflected in purchase price considerations, as some owners have vehicles that are virtually worthless as the result of a rollback;
(ii) Lost Time: buyers of high mileage vehicles frequently spend considerable time dealing with unexpected maintenance; often time is lost from work when a car is the person's method of transport to his or her employment;
(iii) Taxes: the sales tax imposed on the inflated purchase price attributable to the rollback, and annual property taxes imposed based on a falsely inflated purchase price;
(iv) Finance Charges: the cost of financing the portion of a vehicle's cost that stems from the rollback; and
(v) Insurance Costs: unnecessary insurance carried due to a false belief that a vehicle is low mileage.
When viewed in light of all of these factors[FN9]--some of which (e.g., property taxes and insurance costs) are recurring--it is apparent that $4,000 per vehicle is an extremely conservative estimate of the average loss per vehicle caused by the defendant's fraudulent scheme.
NOTE: The balance of this memorandum is Civil Resource Manual 184 Civil Resource Manual at 184.
Updated February 19, 2015