Four local men who operated two used-car lots in Indianapolis have been charged with several federal crimes, including conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and interstate transportation of stolen property, U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler announced Tuesday.
The crimes violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, Minkler said, and are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Under indictment are Mohamed “Noshi” Mahmoud, 39, of Fishers, and three Indianapolis men: Mahdi Kehlifi, 23; Issa Kayyali, 28; and Hamza “Alex” Dridi, 26.
Mahmoud was the principal leader of the group and manager of Elite Enterprise, which operated Elite Imports or Elite Motors dealerships at 46th Street and Keystone Avenue in Indianapolis and in the 8100 block of Pendleton Pike in Lawrence. He also ran several “shell” companies in Indianapolis, investigators said.
Kehlifi was a managing sales associate involved in the day-to-day operations of the dealerships and Kayyali was a sales associate. Minkler said Dridi was the service manager and mechanic in charge of a chop shop the dealership used to disassemble vehicles that were later alleged to be stolen.
The dealerships were raided by federal agents on Sept. 22, 2015. They reopened the day after the raids but are now believed to be closed. A phone number listed for the business has been disconnected and its website has been taken down.
The indictment alleges that the four men were involved in three separate but connected fraud schemes.
The first involved procuring fraudulent documents and submitting them to lending institutions to underwrite the purchase of vehicles on behalf of Elite’s customers. The documents used Social Security numbers, dates of birth and pay stubs from the shell companies created by Elite employees.
The second scheme involved conspiracy to defraud insurance carriers by submitting false claims for stolen or damaged vehicles. In many cases, the so-called stolen cars or damaged parts were hidden in a chop shop storage unit leased by Mahmoud, the indictment says.
The third scheme allegedly involved theft from specialty financing companies who gave Elite short-term financing and lines of credit for vehicles in inventory. The companies were defrauded through false representations made by Elite management, investigators said.
“As is so often the case in these fraud cases, the ultimate victims are the ones that can least afford it,” Minkler said in a written statement. “Elite Motors abused processes in place that would allow citizens with subprime credit to get back on their feet through legitimate vehicle sales.”
The case was investigated by a partnership between federal, state, and local officials, including the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Social Security, Office of Inspector General, the Lawrence Police Department and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Assistance was provided by the Indiana Secretary of State’s Auto Division and the Indiana Attorney General Consumer Fraud Division.