PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Nine South Florida residents — including a Miami Beach police officer — were arrested this week after a yearlong investigation into auto fraud that cost Miami-area businesses nearly a half-million dollars, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Friday.
One Boca Raton suspect, Shannon A. Reid, 56, remained at large, police said.
Investigators allege a scheme that defrauded auto dealers and financial institutions by providing false credit information and bills-of-sale to obtain loans that were not repaid. The group included a clerk in a private tag agency and used at least three Miami-area auto dealerships, according to the criminal complaint.
FDLE investigator Victor Johnson said the people charged allegedly were "straw buyers," buying and leasing cars by using other people's credit information to inflate car loans.
"In some cases the vehicles were shipped out of the country, so there was no way to repossess them once the lenders realized they were out of the money," Johnson said.
Johnson said several financial institutions and legitimate car dealerships are victims in the alleged scheme, with losses of $500,000 or more.
Charges filed against the suspects include racketeering, conspiracy, unlawful subleasing of motor vehicles, communications fraud, title fraud and false statements.
Broward County residents arrested and charged were Todd Javon Smith Jr., 29, of Pembroke Pines; Shanovia Maria Smith, 26, of Pembroke Pines; Nicholi O'Neil Smith, 37, of Miramar; Francis Elizabeth Hannan, 49, of Lauderhill; and James M. Paul, 35, of Sunrise.
In Miami, residents charged were Tomas Manrique, 51, and Dennis Esther Matos Torres, 42. Alexandra Olivera, 25, of Hialeah, an employee of a private auto tag office, was arrested on charges including racketeering and title fraud.
George Robert Navarro, 26, a Miami Beach police officer, was charged with racketeering, fraud and unlawful subleasing of motor vehicles, false statements and official misconduct. Navarro has been suspended by the police department.
Navarro's attorney Michael Band said Navarro has had an "exemplary career" as a police officer and contends a friend he knew in middle school, serving a sentence for drug use, wrongly accused the officer.
"We dispute that he has done anything wrong," Band said.
The case will be prosecuted by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office.