McALLEN — A trio of former car dealership employees made their initial appearance in federal court Thursday in connection with a scheme to defraud banks and other companies, court records show.
Ronnie Joe Gomez, 44, of Pharr, David Salinas, 44, of McAllen, and Jorge Villanueva, 50, of San Antonio stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter E. Ormsby days after a federal grand jury returned an indictment against the men, records show.
Gomez, Salinas, and Villanueva allegedly participated in a “long-running scheme to defraud companies, including financial institutions, in connection with car loans in the Rio Grande Valley area,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Texas.
Gomez and Salinas, who at the time of the alleged crimes were employed with Spike’s Ford in Mission, and Villanueva, then an employee with Hacienda Ford, which has locations in Edinburg and McAllen, were arrested early Thursday morning prior to their appearances before Ormsby.
The indictment, returned June 18, was unsealed Thursday upon their arrests.
The men are each charged with wire fraud. According to the indictment, Gomez, Salinas and Villanueva allegedly concocted a scheme to dupe financial institutions — Ford Credit and the Navy Army Community Credit Union, to name a few — by submitting fraudulent proof of their customers’ income to purchase motor vehicles.
If convicted of the charge, each defendant faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine.
In addition to potential prison time, the government is also seeking to impose a monetary judgment, “equal to the total value of the property subject to forfeiture.”
The FBI conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frances E. Blake and David A. Lindenmuth are prosecuting the case, according to the release.