A federal jury in November convicted two Oklahoma dealership owners and their comptroller of using fraud to fool finance companies into issuing auto loans to consumers who might have been denied otherwise.
Bobby Mayes, Charles Gooch and Courtney Wells, all of Norman, Okla., were found guilty Nov. 19 of charges including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and multiple counts of wire fraud, forgery and aggravated identity theft. The jury convicted Mayes and Gooch on 25 counts, all those they faced. It convicted Wells on 19 of 25 charges; she was acquitted on six of the 12 wire fraud counts she faced.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma said the schemes ran from January 2014 to March 2019 at Big Red Dealerships, a group that consisted of Big Red Sports/Imports, Big Red Kia, Norman Yamaha, Norman Mitsubishi and Mayes Kia.
Mayes, 49, owned all five of the businesses and was the group’s CEO. Gooch, 63, was compliance officer of the dealership group until 2018 and owned part of Mayes Kia and Norman Mitsubishi. Wells, 36, worked as the group’s comptroller.
Sentencing was expected in about 90 days.
Tommy Adler of AMA Law, a lawyer representing Wells, said Tuesday that she would pursue an appeal. He had no further comment.
Messages left for lawyers for Gooch and Mayes on Tuesday afternoon were not immediately returned. The current ownership status of the Big Red businesses is unclear.
Messages left at a joint phone number for Big Red Sports and Big Red Kia were not immediately returned. A phone number for Norman Mitsubishi is now associated with Oklahoma Motorcars; a representative said that business is not affiliated with Big Red. Phone numbers associated with Mayes Kia and Norman Yamaha were not in service.
Federal prosecutors said the dealership group used a variety of tricks to convince lenders to issue loans to customers with poor or no credit, a demographic the business had targeted.
Big Red Dealerships until late 2014 reported inflated or nonexistent down payments, documenting these instances internally as “King Cash,” according to authorities.
In 2015, Mayes and Gooch created what authorities described as a shell pawnshop known as Norman Pawn & Gun, according to prosecutors. The defendants told Big Red Dealerships staff to ask customers whether they owned items that could be pawned toward a down payment. Gooch or other staff “would typically write an appraisal value of the items that matched the amount needed to satisfy a Lender’s cash down payment requirement,” the indictment states. However, lenders were told the consumer had put cash down.
According to authorities, the pawned items were sometimes worth far less than the amount disbursed — some items were even broken. Still, the dealerships repaid the pawn shop the amount disbursed to the customers, prosecutors said.
Mayes and Gooch were convicted but Wells was acquitted on charges related to allegations that Big Red Dealerships accepted and reported trade-ins to fund necessary down payments on loans. But unbeknownst to the lenders, the customers later repurchased the trade-in vehicles — some of which didn’t even run — for $1.
Authorities said testimony indicated the conspiracy also included loans of as much as three times the vehicle value approved “after a Big Red Dealership manager gave cash bribes to a loan officer and the Big Red Dealerships provided fake invoices to justify the inflated prices.”