Service Station Owner Sencenced For Extortion And Mail Fraud
BOSTON – An automobile service station owner, who conspired with a Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicle (RMV) project manager to extort other service station owners who wanted to obtain a license to conduct vehicle safety inspections, was sentenced today.
Simon Abou Raad, 51, of Tyngsborough, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge George A. O’Toole to three years in prison, two years of supervised release, a $10,000 fine and ordered to forfeit $360,000 in illegal proceeds. In December 2013, Abou Raad pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to extort money under color of official right.
Abou Raad owned service stations in Tewksbury and Tyngsboro. His co-defendant, Mark LaFrance, project manager for Vehicle Safety and Compliance Services at the RMV, had oversight responsibilities for the entire motor vehicle inspection program within Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, applications to obtain a license to conduct motor vehicle safety inspections are intended to be granted off a waiting list with consideration given to geographic location. An applicant for a vehicle inspection license must pay a $100 fee and the actual equipment costs about $2,500. The inspection network was at its capacity, therefore the RMV was not granting new licenses off the waiting list.
LaFrance and Abou Raad operated what was essentially “a black market” for such licenses through the use of LaFrance’s official position. LaFrance provided to Abou Raad a list of vehicle inspection stations that had a low volume of inspections and/or were planning to surrender their license and sell the inspection equipment. Abou Raad then contacted the service station owner and offered to buy the inspection license and equipment for prices usually in the range of $5,000 to $6,000. Abou Raad offered for sale such licenses and equipment to service station owners desirous of acquiring a license for prices between $50,000 to $75,000. Abou Raad then arranged the transaction to appear as if the service station owners selling and buying the license were merging as a new business entity or with a change in ownership. Although he was aware that these purported mergers were not bona fide, LaFrance either approved the issuing of a new license or permitted others in the RMV to approve the new license. After the fraudulent transaction resulting in the issuance of a vehicle inspection licenses was completed and payment was made to Abou Raad, he split the illegal proceeds with LaFrance. Through this illegal scheme, Abou Raad sold at least 10 inspection licenses and/or machines for approximately $657,000 in total.
In November 2013, LaFrance was sentenced to three years in prison.