INDIANAPOLIS — Two men were convicted of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering after a nationwide bankruptcy scheme that involved Indianapolis car lots, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday.
Following a six-day trial, a federal jury found 47-year-old Brian Fenner, of Indianapolis, and 63-year-old Dennis Birkley, of Wisconsin, guilty of one count of conspiracy, 14 counts of fraud and three counts of money laundering.
According to court documents and trial evidence, between 2013 and 2016, Fenner promoted the “Sperro free bankruptcy program” to financially distressed people across the country who owed more in car loans than their cars were worth. Through the program, Fenner promised to pay bankruptcy attorneys’ fees to those who turned over their vehicles to him. Numerous people signed up for the program and surrendered their vehicles to Fenner, including some from as far away as California and Arizona. Fenner arranged for their cars to be towed to his lots in Indianapolis for “outlandish” fees, the D.O.J. said.
The department explained that Indiana law requires towing and storage companies to hold auctions to sell vehicles to satisfy unpaid debts and give the auto loan holders any proceeds of the sale that exceed the towing and storage fees. Fenner pretended to sell the cars at auctions to cover the fees. The D.O.J. said these fraudulent auctions were part of a series of fraudulent documents and lies submitted to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which resulted in the “buyer” receiving a free-and-clear car title from the BMV.
Birkley and his company, AMI Asset Management, were the successful bidders for all 100 vehicles obtained by Fenner from debtors, said authorities. Birkley falsely claimed to have paid Fenner the exact amount Fenner claimed he was owed for towing and storage fees, leaving nothing to satisfy the lien of the lenders or return to the individuals. Birkley and Fenner were engaged in the scheme together, and Birkley did not pay Fenner anything for the cars to which Birkley fraudulently obtained the title, said the D.O.J.
Once Birkley received vehicles with titles clear of liens from banks or anyone else, he sold the vehicles, sometimes at a real public auction, and often received thousands of dollars in profit, the department said. He split the profit with Fenner, and the two illegally obtained over $1 million through their fraud.
The scheme left financially distressed people with no vehicles and the vehicle loan debt, which they were often unable to discharge in bankruptcy, concluded the D.O.J.
“These defendants engaged in a brazen and long running fraud scheme, illegally enriching themselves at the expense of financially distressed individuals and their lenders,” said Zachary A. Myers, an attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. “These fraudsters repeatedly lied and created false documents to exploit Indiana regulators and the bankruptcy process. Complex economic crimes are a federal prosecution priority, and these convictions demonstrate that those who choose to engage in these schemes will be held accountable.”