Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently announced nine people 10 businesses pled guilty criminal charges, Fox 43 reports.
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The parties fraudulently obtained more than 1,000 Pennsylvania state licenses plates and used them to create a criminal enterprise that spread across numerous states. The organized crime ring was known as “Operation Car Wash.”
The ring leader, Rafael Levi from Brooklyn, NY entered an open guilty plea in Dauphin County Common Please Court on March 9 to 36 third-degree felonies. Every felony count has a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison and a fine up to $15,000. Levi’s sentencing was deferred, pending a pre-sentencing investigation.
“The organized criminal ring led by Rafael Levi used legitimate business tactics – applying for licenses, insurance, car loans and purchases – for totally illegitimate purposes,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “From fraudulent license plates to phony car titles and other frauds, they gamed the system to rack up millions in illegal profits. Now, they’re facing justice.”
The attorney general’s office is seeking restitution of more than $1.5 million from the defendants, according to Fox 43. Levi will forfeit several luxury vehicles that include a 2015 Rolls Royce Wraith, a 2015 Ferrari, a 2007 Ferrari F430 and other cars. The Commonwealth will liquidate the vehicles to pay for part of the restitution.
Levi pled guilty on behalf of nine businesses as well. They will all have to pay a $10,000 fine and a $15,000 civil penalty to the Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority.
The eight other “Operation Car Wash” defendants entered please to various crimes on March 9. The crimes included theft by deception, insurance fraud and washing vehicle titles. Other crime ring members pled guilty before. Edward Leyberman, April Levy, Cody Levy, Michael Levy, Brian Estrella, Morris Harary, Kelly Rogers, Sal Maniscalco, Prestige AAA Sales, Inc. all entered guilty pleas on March 9.
“Operation Car Wash” would rent out Pennsylvania license plates in various locations, including New York City and generate significant profits. The people who used the fraudulent plates avoided paying more than $1 million in parking fines and EZ Pass tolls in several states.
The Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Section investigation and a statewide investigative grand jury led to the charges filed in April 2017. The investigation started when the Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Section got information from the Pennsylvania State Police.
“We broke up this organized crime ring because of strong collaboration with law enforcement agencies and our effective use of the grand jury,” Shapiro said. “Law enforcement cooperation shut Operation Car Wash down. We thank the Pennsylvania State Police, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and every other agency that helped us with this complex case.”
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has put in reforms to keep this type of fraud from happening again. One reform is when used car dealers apply for license plates in bulk, PennDOT must conduct a financial analysis using the dealerships’ sales data to determine if the requested amount of plates matches the financial data.
As a result of the Attorney General’s office investigation in this case, PennDOT has implemented reforms to prevent this kind of fraud in the future. One example: when used car dealers apply for a bulk number of license plates, PennDOT now conducts a financial analysis, using sales data from the dealerships, to determine whether the number of license plates applied for is supported by the data.
Deputy Attorney General Robert LaBar and Deputy Attorney General Kristyne Sharpe of the Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Section prosecuted the case.
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