ST. GEORGE – A pending resolution in an auto subleasing fraud case has been postponed so the defense and defendant can review a plea agreement offered by the state.
Richard “Rabbit” Downward, 43, of St. George, appeared in the courtroom of Fifth District Court Judge John Walton Thursday morning. Downward, owner of now-closed Executive Auto Group, was charged with multiple felony counts of fraud and auto equity skimming last year. The charges stem from an investigation conducted by the Utah State Tax Commission’s Motor Vehicle Division into complaints from lending agencies that accused Executive Auto Group of conspiracy, bank fraud and equity skimming of vehicles. According to court documents, a number of individuals were also involved in the scheme.
Downward waived his right to a preliminary hearing in November and was anticipated to accept a plea agreement offered by the Washington County Attorney’s Office Thursday. However, Michael Lastowski, Downward’s lawyer, said the plea agreement only just arrived at his office that morning and asked the court to allow him and his client time to review it. Judge Walton granted the request and scheduled a new hearing for Jan. 30 at 9 a.m.
In all, Downward faces eight second-degree felony counts of communication fraud and two third-degree counts of vehicle equity skimming.
Complaints alleging Executive Auto Group falsified information, credit applications and other documents used in auto loan submissions began to filter into the Utah State Tax Commission in 2011. After a six-month long investigation into the complaints, the USTC Motor Vehicle Division executed a search warrant at Executive Auto Group on Feb. 28, 2013. The dealership’s business license was also revoked and the business shut down.
According to court documents, many vehicles acquired with the suspect loans were then subleased without the lenders’ knowledge or permission, and that “loan applicants arranged to receive payments over the amount of their amount of their contract loan amount.”
Washington County Deputy Attorney Jerry Jaeger previously told St. George News that in some cases of illegal auto subleasing, lending agencies will retrieve cars bought with suspect loans. This retrieval not only affects the accused dealership, but can also extend to private individuals who unknowingly bought subleased cars.
“It’s frustrating a lot of the time for the buyer,” Jaeger said.
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