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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Defendant Sentenced To 5 Years’ Imprisonment For Exporting Stolen Luxury Cars Worth Over $1 Million To Africa

Defendant Also Filed Fraudulent Federal Tax Returns Seeking Over $200,000 In Refunds

Earlier today, at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, Yasser Lawani was sentenced to 5 years in prison following his March 13, 2013, guilty plea to two separate criminal schemes:  (1) conspiring to export to Africa luxury vehicles stolen from rental car companies and valued at more than $1 million, and (2) filing fraudulent federal tax returns that sought more than $200,000 from the federal government.  The defendant had testified at the October 2013 trial of his brother, Thierno Lawani, who was convicted by a jury in the Eastern District of New York for his participation in the scheme to export stolen motor vehicles.  Yasser Lawani’s sentence reflected the sentencing court’s judgment that he made false statements during his trial testimony.  The sentence also included a term of supervised release of three years and an order that Lawani make restitution in the amount of $72,985 to his victims.  

The sentence was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York; and Shantelle P. Kitchen, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Criminal Investigation, New Jersey.

“The defendant devised and executed two brazen schemes that defrauded rental car companies and the U.S. government out of more than a million dollars and resulted in the theft of dozens of individuals’ identities, for the sole purpose of personal gain,” stated United States Attorney Lynch.  “In addition, the defendant lied under oath at a federal trial.  The defendant’s fraud and deception have now earned him a new home in federal prison.  Today’s sentencing sends a message to others who seek to profit from similar schemes and underscores the seriousness with which our justice system views the commission of perjury.”  Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to HSI and the IRS, and thanked the New York City Police Department, the Port Authority Police Department, and the Office of the Queens County District Attorney for their assistance.

Over a period of several months in 2012, the defendant and his brother used fraudulent Canadian driver’s licenses and fraudulent credit cards to rent and then steal luxury cars from a variety of rental car agencies, including the Hertz Corporation.  The defendant and his brother then drove the stolen cars to a warehouse in Newark, New Jersey, where the cars were loaded into shipping containers bound for Africa.  At least 35 cars were stolen during the course of the scheme.  The defendant’s brother, Thierno Lawani, was convicted in October 2013 of conspiracy to export motor vehicles, attempted exportation of motor vehicles, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and false statements.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on February 28, 2013.

Between 2010 and 2012, the defendant filed 53 fraudulent federal income tax returns, each of which claimed a refund of taxes.  In total, these fraudulent tax returns claimed in excess of $200,000 in refunds; the defendant actually received and stole $72,985 in connection with those returns.  In filing the fraudulent returns, the defendant utilized the identities of 43 individuals.

Today’s sentence was imposed by United States District Judge Margo K. Brodie.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Alixandra E. Smith.

The Defendant

Age: 30
Lindenwold, New Jersey / Cotonou, Benin

EDNY Docket No. 13-CR-139 (MKB)

Updated July 2, 2015