Trials set for December and February in car dealership case

The trial dates for five former car dealership employees accused of fraud are now set.

Dates for the trial of the five suspects accused of defrauding banks and other financial institutions are set for December and February, while one defendant has pleaded guilty to fraud charges and is expected to be sentenced in late January, records show.

Soundra Mae Lopez, who was indicted in early October, pleaded not guilty to one bank fraud charge Oct. 28.

Lopez, 52, of Weslaco, remains free on a $50,000 bond and is scheduled for jury selection for her trial on Dec. 3.

Also pleading not guilty to their respective fraud charges in October was Jorge Villanueva, 50, Jorge Garza, 46, both of San Antonio, and Samuel Sanchez, 55, of McAllen, and Ronnie Joe Gomez, 44, of Pharr. They remain free on bonds.

Their respective trials are set to begin in February, with jury selection set for Feb. 6, records show.

David Salinas, 44, of McAllen, pleaded guilty to fraud by wire charge on Oct. 28, and is set for sentencing Jan. 28, 2020. He’s currently free on a $30,000 bond.

The defendants allegedly 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 Employees Credit Union (CMECU) in reference to a borrower’s “creditworthiness” in order to fund vehicle purchases. This led to the credit union 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.

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.

“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.”