Justice Department Recognizes Human Trafficking Survivor and Advocate from Washington with Special Courage Award
In two separate cases, federal defendants have been sentenced to prison terms for conducting fraudulent car sales over the internet, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. The two cases involve the theft and sale of stolen cars, and the sale of non-existent vehicles by using various websites.
JUAN CARLOS DE LA CRUZ PIOTE, 48, a native of Spain, was sentenced Tuesday June 3, 2014, to 32 months in prison. DE LA CRUZ PIOTE was a member of a scheme to scam prospective purchasers of cars, boats, and RVs by using false internet postings and fake payment processing programs. He was arrested in New York on July 22, 2013, when he tried to enter the U.S. from Romania. DE LA CRUZ PIOTE and his co-schemers opened multiple bank accounts in the Western District of Washington, which were used to accept more than $700,000 from victims who thought they were using a secure payment method to purchase vehicles advertised on the internet. In fact, the advertised vehicles were never delivered, and the money was quickly wired out of the country or withdrawn from the accounts as cash. The conspirators set up the accounts with business names such as GMC AUTOS, LLC, CARS CONSULTANTS, LLC, AUTO FINANCIAL, LLC and MGA ENGINES, LLC, and would advertise various vehicles on legitimate websites such as Craig’s List or Autotrader.com. The conspirators created counterfeit PayPal paperwork and web pages, or would have the victims make the payment through a service they created and called “Amazon Payments” – but the service was in no way associated with Amazon.com. The use of these names was a way to lull the purchasers into thinking they were dealing with a legitimate online seller.
On Friday, May 30, 2014, DUC LONG TRAN VU, 26, of Vancouver, Washington was sentenced to nine months in prison for his role in a scheme to steal cars in Oregon, create fake title documents, and sell them to unsuspecting customers in Washington State after advertising them on Craigslist or other internet sites. VU, a former engineering student at the University of Washington, was involved in at least two sales of stolen cars. A 2007 Volvo XC 90 was stolen right out of the driveway of a Portland home and sold via Craigslist to a couple in Tacoma. The couple took precautions – examining the title, checking the VIN number and getting VU’s identification when they met him in a public place. Still, when they went to transfer title they discovered the car had been reported stolen. The couple was out $15,000.
In a second incident, two Seattle brothers were stopped by Kent police in a 1998 Honda Civic that had been stolen in Oregon and advertised on Craigslist. Not knowing whether the brothers were involved in the theft, police did a felony stop – ordering the men out of the car with guns drawn. Fortunately, the brothers had made a cell phone video of the man who sold them the car and took a photo of his identification. Police were able to identify VU even though the identification used a fake name. The stolen car was returned to the owner.
The case against DE LA CRUZ PIOTE and his co-schemers was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FBI. The VU case was investigated by the FBI, the Washington State Patrol and the Kent Police Department.
Both cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Reese Jennings.