A former consignment car dealer and his top sales manager pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Juneau to charges they defrauded their customers, possibly of up to $200,000.
Curtis McQueen, 36, former owner of the defunct McQueen Motors, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud Monday afternoon in federal court. Other charges, including 13 additional counts of mail and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, were dismissed as part of a plea agreement between federal prosecutor Laura Loeffler and defense attorney Louis Menendez.
McQueen's former sales manager, Kenneth Hill, 35, pleaded guilty to a federal charge of wire fraud. Four counts of mail and wire fraud and one conspiracy charge were dropped as part of a plea agreement between Loeffler and defense attorneys Robert Blasco and Amy Gurton-Mead.
McQueen devised a scheme to defraud consignment customers between July 1999, when his lot opened, and December 2001, authorities said. The mail and wire fraud charges stem from the two using the U.S. mail and the telephone to complete fraudulent deals.
Sentence recommendations for McQueen include 15 to 21 months in federal prison, $120,000 to $200,000 in restitution for the victims, and two to three years of probation. Hill could receive up to six months in federal prison and two to three years of probation, and be required to pay about $40,000 in restitution.
Sentencing hearings for Hill and McQueen are slated for March 28 before U.S. District Judge James Singleton and federal Magistrate Philip Pallenberg, respectively.
McQueen was indicted in late July after more than seven months of FBI investigation into his business practices. Hill was indicted in September.
According to court records, McQueen would contract to sell vehicles for a price on consignment in exchange for an agreed-upon fee paid to the dealership, usually $900. However, McQueen and Hill sometimes would sell the vehicle for a higher price, report a lower price to the seller, and keep the difference on top of their fee.
According to the original indictment, McQueen and Hill defrauded 14 people. According to court records, no one is sure how much McQueen and Hill skimmed, but prosecutors believed it was between $120,000 and $200,000.
"Mr. McQueen takes complete responsibility for any and all problems arising out of his ownership of McQueen Motors," said Menendez in a written statement to the Empire. "Mr. McQueen wants everyone to clearly understand that any mistakes were his and his alone.
"Mr. McQueen is a young businessman who worked exhaustively to make his (business) a success. He made some good decisions and some poor decisions. ... By this plea, he stands ready to do the right thing."
McQueen closed his Glacier Highway lot early last year and moved with his family to Wasilla, where he is employed, Menendez said in a July interview with the Empire.
Blasco speculated in an interview with the Empire that Hill never realized the scheme was illegal.
"Well, he was an employee of Curtis McQueen and he accepted it as part of the job," Blasco told the Empire today. "As far as McQueen told Ken, it was normal business practice there."
Blasco declined comment on when Hill learned the scheme was illegal. Blasco said Hill pleaded guilty because the offer "under all the circumstances seemed fair and reasonable."
Hill is unemployed, but was working as a Juneau Police Department dispatcher after he left McQueen's business in October 2001.
The U.S. Attorneys Office did not return calls made by the Empire for comment.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.