San Jose Couple Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft
SAN JOSE—Yujen Chen and Maria Chen, husband and wife, pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft arising out of their ownership of 888 Auto Corporation, announced Acting United States Attorney Brian Stretch; Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Acting Special Agent in Charge Andrew Toth; and FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Director of Field Operations Brian J. Humphrey. In connection with their guilty pleas, defendants acknowledged their crimes involved sophisticated means, ten or more victims, and that the loss amount was in excess of $3.4 million.
According to their plea agreements, Yujen Chen, 60, and Maria Chen, 58, both of Cupertino, used their automotive business to fraudulently lease luxury vehicles, including vehicles from Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, and Toyota, and then to export those vehicles abroad. As part of the scheme, the Chens recruited friends and associates to serve as straw lessees and sometimes paid these friends $500 to lease cars on the Chens’ behalf. Subsequently, the Chens took custody of the cars and promised the straw lessees they would make the car payments. Instead, the Chens exported the cars and never paid off the lease obligations. The Chens also used without permission the identities of others to lease cars.
In addition, as part of the plea agreements, the Chens acknowledged they also acted as vehicle brokers and received money from people to purchase vehicles on their behalf. However, instead of paying the dealers the money received from the purchasers, the Chens allegedly used the identities of these purchasers, without authorization, to lease or finance the vehicles and kept the money for themselves.
The defendants were originally charged in a 24-count indictment filed November 20, 2013. They are currently out of custody on bond. They pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, and aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A. As part of the plea agreement, the government agreed to dismiss the remaining open charges at the time of sentencing.
U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila set this matter for sentencing on April 25, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. The maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349, is 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, plus restitution. The maximum penalty for aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A, is 24 months’ imprisonment consecutive to any other sentence of imprisonment imposed. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Fazioli is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Laurie Worthen. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigative Division; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the United States Customs and Border Protection; the California Department of Motor Vehicles; and the California Highway Patrol.