Indiana Daily Student

Indy residents convicted of federal racketeering through car business



Two Indianapolis residents were convicted Wednesday of defrauding insurance and lending companies of upwards of $1.6 million.

Mahdi Khelifi, 25, and Hamza Dridi, 28, were convicted on two charges, one for interstate transportation of stolen property, and another in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, according to a release from the U.S. attorney's office of the Southern District of Indiana.

The RICO act is a federal law providing for additional penalties for crimes committed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. 

The pair were part of a group of 10 people charged in connection with insurance fraud allegedly committed at Elite Imports, LLC and Elite Car Imports, LLC.

The other eight pleaded guilty and did not go to trial.

Employees and managers of Elite, including Khelifi and Dridi, helped customers get loans to buy cars by submitting fraudulent documents that gave false evidence of income and residency and stated customers worked at shell companies.

This was done to convince lenders a customer was credit-worthy.

Elite's employees also falsely reported vehicles as stolen, which federal authorities discovered when they raided a chop shop behind one of Elite’s locations on Keystone Avenue in September 2015. Authorities found 11 vehicles and vehicle parts previously reported stolen. 

Company employees also allegedly engaged in fraud by securing short-term loans to buy cars to put up for sale on the floor. When a customer bought the car, employees would not notify the lender and not pay the lender back, according to court documents.

To avoid detection during monthly or bimonthly audits by lenders, Elite company employees would advise customers to return their cars during an audit.

Because car titles were supposed to come from the lenders once they were paid back, Elite employees also did not give customers their correct car titles.

"This type of fraud has a devastating impact on victims, and the verdict sends a clear message that illegal business practices in the form of white collar crime won't be tolerated," said W. Jay Abbott, special agent in charge of the FBI's Indianapolis Division, in a release. "The FBI and our law enforcement and regulatory partners will continue to aggressively pursue those who perpetrate these schemes and steal from hardworking Americans."

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