Missouri woman pleads guilty in exported vehicle scheme

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | 4:24 p.m. CDT

OMAHA, Neb. — A Missouri woman who prosecutors say played a central role in a scheme to buy more than 300 vehicles with phony titles and improperly export them has pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge.

Patrice Robertson pleaded guilty Tuesday as part of a plea agreement. She ran the vehicle brokerage in Chillicothe, Mo., a scheme that improperly bought the vehicles for export.

Earlier this month, a former Omaha car salesman and the owner of a Kansas trucking company were both charged with 11 counts of wire fraud and one conspiracy charge.

Prosecutors say the three purchased roughly 342 vehicles fraudulently from at least six different dealerships in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Ohio. Nearly 200 of the vehicles came from the Huber dealership on the west side of Omaha. Several different makes of vehicles were included in the fraud, though many of the vehicles were Hummers.

Robertson's lawyer, Jim Wyrsch of Kansas City, Mo., declined to comment Wednesday.

Court documents outlining the case against Robertson say the names on titles for the vehicles were often faked to make it appear as if the cars were being sold locally. Prosecutors say Robertson even used the name of a deceased high school classmate on several of the titles.

The Nebraska State Patrol launched the investigation in 2006 after several Hummers ostensibly sold to local buyers weren't registered in the state.

State and federal authorities traced the vehicles to Nigeria, Germany, Canada, Japan and other countries in violation of the contract agreements between car dealers and manufacturers. That sometimes triggered financial penalties for the car dealers.

The fraudulent titles also helped the buyers improperly collect incentives from vehicle manufacturers, including more than $500,000 in unearned incentives from General Motors related to vehicles sold by the Huber dealership in 2005 and 2006.

The two other people charged in this scheme are former Huber auto salesman Steve Romshek, of Omaha, and Marilyn Maskill, who owns Corporate Auto Movers trucking company in Overland Park, Kan.

Both Romshek and Maskill have pleaded not guilty to the 12 charges they face, and both remain free on bond.

Romshek's attorney, Robin Fowler, said his client intends to respond to the charges in court at the appropriate time, but he declined to discuss the details of the case.

Maskill's attorney, Patrick McInerney, declined to comment Wednesday.

According to court documents, Robertson's businesses in Chillicothe bought 179 vehicles from Huber in 2005 and 2006. The other purchases included 79 vehicles bought from Husker Auto Group in Lincoln; 51 vehicles bought from Midwestern Auto Group in Dublin, Ohio; 32 vehicles from Aristocrat Motors in Merriam, Kan.; 23 vehicles from Town & Country Motors in Sedalia, Mo.; and 12 vehicles from Joe Machens Toyota in Columbia, Mo.

Most of those were vehicles were then delivered to Ace Auto Sales of San Gabriel, Calif., Toronto Auto Wholesale of Ontario, Canada, and LOR Enterprises LLC of St. Petersburg, Fla., and exported.

Court documents describe several instances when the people involved in the scheme tried to deceive car dealers and conceal the fact that the vehicles were being exported.

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