Additional suspects charged in car dealership fraud scheme

Additional suspects have been charged in an ongoing investigation into a scheme to defraud banks and other financial institutions, court records show.

In a recently unsealed superseding indictment, federal government prosecutors allege Samuel Sanchez, 55, of McAllen; Soundra Mae Lopez, 52, of Weslaco; and Jorge Garza, 46, of San Antonio, participated in a “long-running” scheme to defraud financial institutions to obtain car loans in the Rio Grande Valley.

Between April 2011, and January 2014, Sanchez, Lopez and Garza allegedly provided false information to County and Municipal Employee’s Credit Union in reference to a borrower’s “creditworthiness” in order to fund vehicle purchases. This led to the CMECU funding roughly more than $2 million in fraudulent loans, according to the indictment.

The suspects are accused of accomplishing this by altering borrowers’ income statements that were provided to the lender.

“(Garza, Sanchez and Lopez) and other co-conspirators, knowing that the loans would likely not be approved and funded if the Lender knew the true financial status of the loan applicants, in an effort to get the borrowers’ loans approved, deceived the Lender by causing borrowers’ loan applications to include false financial information, including inflated income figures, in order to conceal the borrowers’ true financial condition from the Lender,” the indictment read.

They join a trio of former car dealership employees who were charged in late June 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 currently face wire fraud charges.

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 in late June.

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.

Sanchez, who was arrested Wednesday morning, made his initial appearance in federal court later that day.

Garza and Lopez appeared in federal court last week following their arrests and were subsequently granted a bond pending further criminal proceedings, the release read.

Both Garza and Lopez are currently free on $50,000 bond each, records show.

“Garza, Sanchez and Lopez are all charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Gomez and Salinas face up to 20 years in prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine, while the remaining defendants could receive a maximum 30-year prison term and up to a $1 million potential fine, upon conviction,” according to a USAO news release.

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.”