Auto dealer busted in finance scam: DA

Auto dealer busted in finance scam: DA
Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rebecca Henely

The Long Island owners of a Woodside car dealership were charged last week with holding onto about $730,000 in sales taxes while the dealership’s ex-finance manager allegedly defrauded customers out of $115,000 in cash through a fake refinancing scheme, the Queens district attorney’s office said.

Hooshmand “Danny” Kohanano, 54, and wife Fereshteh “Jenny” Kohanano, 41, of Great Neck, L.I., who owned the used car dealership Auto Palace Inc., at 53-21 Northern Blvd. in Woodside, were arraigned on the charges involving alleged thefts Dec. 4 before Queens Criminal Court Judge Gene Lopez, the DA said.

Julio “Jay Torres” Estrada, 37, of Hackettstown, N.J., the Auto Palace finance manager, was also indicted by a jury last week, the DA said.

“Tax fraud is the type of crime that makes every New Yorker a victim by cheating the government and the public out of money that is especially needed during this continuing economic downturn,” District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement.

After multiple car sales conducted between Sept. 1, 2006, to Nov. 30, 2009, the Kohananos allegedly held on to more than $730,000 in state and local taxes they charged their customers but did not forward to the state, the DA said. The discrepancies were revealed after review in January 2012 of the dealership’s records obtained through a court-authorized search warrant, the DA said.

Estrada, meanwhile, had allegedly bilked 23 car buyers out of a collective $115,000, the DA said. In the alleged scheme, Estrada is charged with telling buyers that they could refinance their loans after six months of on-time payments, but then would ask them for a fee or down payment ranging from $1,000 to $13,000 and never refinance the loan, the DA said.

It also alleged that Estrada used the name of a defunct Queens auto dealership on loan refinance contracts, gave buyers receipts with a fake company name on them and gave one buyer a fake check to the original lender that seemed to be a payoff for the loan, the DA said. Estrada also allegedly posed as a bank employee, the DA said.

The investigation was conducted through the DA’s office in conjunction with the state Department of Taxation and Finance and the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Kohananos were each charged with three counts of grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, grand larceny, 26 counts of falsifying business records, 26 counts of offering a false instrument, and two counts of scheme to defraud, the DA said. These charges could put the Kohananos behind bars for 25 years and they could be fined up to $10,000 or twice the amount of the cash they illegally acquired, the DA said.

Estrada’s charges include 23 counts of grand larceny, 12 counts of forgery, 15 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument, 23 counts of criminal possession of stolen property, 18 counts of identity theft and one count of scheme to defraud, the DA said. The prison sentence for these crimes, if he is convicted, could be up to seven years, the DA said.

The Kohananos were released on their own recognizance and their next court date is Jan. 9, the DA said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.