TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a woman was sentenced to state prison today for her role in a theft scheme in which the participants obtained car loans and luxury used cars by fraud from dealerships across the state, reselling the vehicles after fraudulently removing liens from the vehicle titles. A leader of the scheme previously was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Paige E. Hunt, 27, of Bloomfield, N.J., was sentenced today to five years in prison by Superior Court Judge Robert A. Kirsch in Union County. Hunt pleaded guilty on June 29 to a charge of second-degree theft by deception contained in an indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. She pleaded guilty on Oct. 30 to an additional charge of second-degree insurance fraud contained in a separate indictment obtained by the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. Judge Kirsch sentenced her to five years in prison on each charge, with the two sentences to run concurrently.
Hunt was one of six defendants convicted of charges contained in a 2017 indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. That investigation began with a referral from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) Division of Security, Investigations and Internal Audit. The investigation revealed that the defendants purchased or had others purchase luxury used cars on credit. They then forged letters purporting to be from the creditor stating that the loan had been satisfied, using those letters to obtain clean titles from the MVC. The vehicles were subsequently sold without disclosing the liens. Between 2012 and 2016, the defendants stole at least 25 luxury vehicles. A leader of the scheme, David L. Dunaway Jr., 43, of Irvington, N.J., pleaded guilty to second-degree theft by deception and was sentenced on Sept. 7 to nine years in state prison by Judge Kirsch.
In the case filed by the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP), Hunt pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining insurance identification cards as part of the scheme to steal vehicles. She was charged with fraudulently obtaining at least nine auto insurance identification cards to provide proof of insurance when purchasing high-end used vehicles from dealerships by fraud. Hunt was able to drive off with at least three vehicles for which no down payment was required at the time of purchase and for which no subsequent payments were ever made. Between June 2016 and April 2017, Hunt fraudulently obtained at least nine auto insurance policies totaling more than $21,605 for coverage on late-model luxury used vehicles that included a Lexus SUV, two Honda Pilot Touring SUVs, a Mercedes Benz SUV, and five Mercedes Benz sedans.
“Hunt was part of a prolific group of con artists who stole loan proceeds and cars worth well over half a million dollars,” said Attorney General Grewal. “As part of her role in the scheme, she used fictitious bank account information to deceive insurers into issuing coverage for the stolen vehicles. This prison sentence sends a message that we will aggressively prosecute white collar crime and insurance fraud, which ultimately raise costs for average consumers and rate-payers.”
“Those who seek fraudulent MVC documents frequently are involved in identity theft, theft and other criminal activity, as illustrated by this case,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We are committed to working closely with the MVC to investigate suspicious activity and prosecute those who commit crimes involving document fraud.”
“Insurance fraud is a serious crime that doesn’t just hurt insurance companies. It also drives up premiums for honest policy holders,” said Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Tracy M. Thompson. “We urge New Jerseyans to fight back by reporting suspected fraud to OIFP. Individuals who provide a tip that leads to a conviction may be eligible for a reward.”
“I’m proud of the MVC’s Security, Investigations & Internal Audit unit for first uncovering this criminal activity,’’ said MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton. “We continue to protect the public and our customers from anyone bent on using our documents or services for wrongdoing. I also applaud Security, Investigations & Internal Audit Director Latrecia Littles-Floyd and her team of investigators and other staff for their vigilance and dedication to duty.’’
The defendants used three methods to purchase vehicles in the theft scheme: (1) Dunaway, Hunt or another member of the conspiracy purchased the vehicle with a car loan that was fraudulently obtained using false employment and salary information, resulting in theft of the loan amount; (2) the defendants used a stolen identity to obtain a car loan and purchase the vehicle, resulting in theft of the loan amount; or (3) several innocent women were duped by Dunaway into purchasing vehicles on credit in their own names, with an agreement that Dunaway – who had gained their trust soon after meeting them – would make the loan payments. In the third scenario, the women were then deceived into believing Dunaway had paid off the loans, leading them to apply for and obtain duplicate vehicle titles without liens. Convinced the vehicles were entirely paid for by Dunaway, the women either signed the vehicle over to one of the defendants or the vehicle was sold with the proceeds going to one of the defendants. In this scenario, the vehicle was effectively stolen from the woman, who remained responsible for the loan.
Deputy Attorneys General Michael King and Gezim Bajrami and former Deputy Attorney General Phillip Leahy prosecuted the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Jacqueline Smith and Bureau Chief Andrew Johns. The case was investigated by Detective Laura Catizone and other members for the Specialized Crimes Bureau MVC Unit, under the supervision of Lt. William Newsome. Attorney General Grewal thanked the MVC Division of Security, Investigations and Internal Audit for their valuable assistance.
MVC Investigator Uku Mannikus opened multiple cases in this matter. MVC Investigators Jeffery Valentino and David Lemongello worked on additional cases. The investigators worked on squads under Supervising Investigators Mike Boehm, James DeHart, and Richard Stryker. Coordinator Samanthia Paden of the MVC’s Title Record Unit also performed significant work on these cases.
Deputy Attorneys General Crystal Callahan and Robert Grady prosecuted Hunt for the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. Detective Amy Carson and Investigator Gabrielle Kane investigated for OIFP. Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Thompson thanked investigators from CURE Insurance and Progressive Insurance, as well as the National Insurance Crime Bureau for their valuable assistance.
Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor Thompson noted that some important cases have started with anonymous tips. People who are concerned about insurance cheating and have information about a fraud can report it anonymously by calling the toll-free hotline at 877-55-FRAUD, or visiting the website www.njinsurancefraud.org. State regulations permit a reward to be paid to an eligible person who provides information that leads to an arrest, prosecution and conviction for insurance fraud.
Defense Attorney: David L. Soffer, Esq., Newark, N.J.