Police say local luxury auto dealerships targeted as vehicles prepared for overseas shipping
Details of an alleged fraud scheme that involved buying and shipping luxury cars overseas have been revealed, as part of a Winnipeg police investigation that has identified five suspects.
Local luxury auto dealerships lost more than $500,000 last summer when a group of young men allegedly used stolen identities to forge driver’s licences, T4 employment slips and other documents in order to lease eight vehicles, effectively stealing them before the dealerships received regular payments.
Two of those vehicles, a Lexus and a Cadillac, were discovered by Canada Border Services Agency officials in a Montreal shipping container bound for Tanzania.
The alleged fraud ring went beyond expensive cars; it involved fraudulent bank accounts, stolen identities and credit card information that were used to buy laptops, cellphones and a big-screen TV.
“The investigation just keeps mushrooming,” Crown attorney Jocelyne Ritchot told court last week.
She said police continue to identify additional suspects.
The Winnipeg Police Service said it could not comment on the investigation.
Several dealerships complained to police last June after they discovered individuals had been using forged IDs and bank information to finance and drive away in luxury vehicles for which they hadn’t paid.
Court was told one of the accused gave investigators “valuable information” after his arrest in early June about the hierarchy of the scheme. Three weeks later, he pleaded guilty.
Matthew Koziey-Lafreniere, 21, admitted to playing a bit part in a scheme to use fake IDs to obtain vehicles and open bank accounts.
“While he’s just a cog in the machine, it is a significant machine here. It seems to be quite well-organized,” Ritchot told provincial court Judge Rocky Pollack after Koziey-Lafreniere pleaded guilty to fraud charges.
The judge agreed, sentencing Koziey-Lafreniere to eight months in jail plus probation, on charges that included a breach of probation, failing to appear in court and using stolen credit cards.
Six months of the total sentence were imposed specifically for his admitted involvement in the fraud scheme, “particularly given the information that Mr. Koziey-Lafreniere gave the police,” Pollack said.
The forged IDs allegedly used photos of the suspects and names and addresses of ID fraud victims.
Koziey-Lafreniere told police he was following instructions from “TT and his people,” who sent fake IDs to an address on Notre Dame Avenue for him to use.
Ritchot told court investigators identified TT as Amadou Diaby, a 25-year-old international student at Université de Saint-Boniface, who is accused of being one of the leaders of the Winnipeg operation along with Bemy Nendaka, who is also charged.
Diaby, from Mali, is accused of more than 20 charges related to fraud, identity theft and participating in a criminal organization over the past two years. He was released on bail Thursday on several conditions, including that he not go to auto dealerships, not possess travel documents and abide by a nightly curfew.
As part of his bail order, a $10,000 surety was put up by a relative who is married to a Manitoba RCMP officer and agreed to supervise Diaby.
Diaby was arrested in early January after he was driving a $41,000 2012 Range Rover — the same one Koziey-Lafreniere has admitted to financing with stolen identity information that used his photo and a victim’s information.
A search warrant executed at Diaby’s home uncovered keys to three stolen vehicles and more forged identity documents, court was told.
No publication ban was imposed on the bail hearing and the suspects are presumed innocent.
Diaby denies the allegations, defence lawyer Alan Hogg told court during the bail hearing.
“On the whole, the case isn’t one that is so strong that we can really say that Mr. Diaby’s this criminal mastermind or a menace to society,” he said.
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By Katie May for Winnipeg Free Press