Former Hoboken Council President Chris Campos was among four individuals arrested on charges of allegedly committing bank and wire fraud in order to perpetuate a $7 million car loan scheme in New York City, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara announced.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Chris Campos, 39, Julio Alvarez, 47, both of Fort Lee, Marco Blasio, 52, of Commack, N.Y., and Geuris Ramos, 38, of Bronx, N.Y., were charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, one count of bank fraud and one count of wire fraud on Wednesday morning, officials said.
The conspiracy and wire fraud charges come with a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison each, while the wire fraud charge comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, authorities said.
According to the 13-page criminal complaint, the defendants used at least 20 straw buyers to obtain more than 200 new automobiles based on false representations.
The alleged straw buyers would, among other things, use the cars for their personal use when the defendants obtained the vehicles in order to lease them to livery cab drivers, according to court documents.
“In or about the fall of 2012, CW-1 (cooperating witness) agreed to pursue a business opportunity with Julio Alvarez, the defendant, involving purchasing vehicles and leasing them to livery drivers,” the complaint says.
“According to their plan, they would the initial lease payments from the drivers to pay off expenses related to the vehicle purchases, including the automobile loans and insurance payments.”
Furthermore, the scheme allegedly involved dividing up the profits between various participants in the scheme, which was supposed to be maximized by a finance manager at “Dealership-1.”
However, the finance manager was actually the second cooperating witness, who was in on the plan with cooperating witness-1 – who feigned that they were interested in obtaining vehicles without pursuing a fleet deal or line of credit, officials said.
The second cooperating witness suggested the straw purchaser idea, where someone would purchase multiple vehicles at the same time, each being financed by a lender, “unaware of the other loans that the straw purchaser was obtaining to purchase additional vehicles,” authorities said.
On November 26, 2012, Alvarez allegedly entered a shareholder agreement with “entity-1,” which made him the CEO and gave Alvarez, Ramos and cooperating witness-1 a one-third vote interest in the company – as well as a one-third interest in the profit and losses.
In January and February of 2013, Blasio helped cooperating witness-1 and straw purchaser-1 prepare and submit false loan applications to obtain additional vehicles from “dealership-2,” according to the complaint.
Furthermore, on an unspecified date in 2013, Alvarez and CW-1 met with Campos at one of Alvarez’s New York businesses, where Campos agreed to recruit straw purchasers for the scheme in return for a share of the profit from the livery business, officials said.
Shortly after the meeting, Campos recruited one of his relatives as straw purchaser-2, who then met with Blasio and filed false applications for multiple vehicles in Campos’ presence – who is a practicing attorney, authorities said.
With a third straw purchaser recruited by Campos, the latest member of the scheme purchased a total of 24 cars at multiple New Jersey car dealerships, using one of Alvarez’s New York business addresses – despite being a N.J. resident – the complaint alleges.
In February and March of 2014, straw purchaser-3 was being contacted by various lenders since loan payments were not being made for vehicles acquired in his/her name – prompting Alvarez and Campos to urge them not to discuss the situation with anyone and to cut back on the texts and emails to them – officials said.
In the complaint, Campos is accused of specifically telling straw purchaser-3 not to speak with the FBI about any of their activities.
“As alleged, the defendants carried out a scheme to obtain millions of dollars in loans under false pretenses at the expense of financial institutions who were deceived into funding the purchase of more than 200 new vehicle,” Bharara said in a statement.
“Thanks to the efforts of our partners at the FBI, these defendants will now be held to account for their criminal misconduct.”
The events in the complaint allegedly occurred roughly between October 2012 and September 2013.
Campos, Hoboken’s 4th Ward councilman between 2001 and 2007, most recently served as the chief of staff to then-Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia (D-33) between January 2014 and December 2015.
Neither Campos nor Garcia returned calls seeking comment from Hudson County View this afternoon.