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Fraud ring brought illegal cars to Ohio for rent to drug dealers, prosecutor says

The ringleader allegedly used a 12-year-old girl’s identity as part of the scheme.
Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 10:39 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 30, 2021 at 9:27 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A Hamilton County man is accused of being the ringleader of an elaborate scheme that put luxury cars in the hands of drug dealers.

Hamilton County Assistant Prosecutor Andy Berghausen likens the case to the plot of a spy novel.

“This is the most organized, widespread multi-state ring that I’ve ever seen,” Berghausen said.

Austell Stokes, the alleged ringleader, used the alias “Robert Degraff” when buying cars from out-of-state dealerships. He did so illegally using the social security number of a 12-year-old girl from Washington state to make fake documents for the sale.

“Just walk in the door, walk out the door. Financing. No money down,” Bergausen said.

The prosecutor claims Stokes followed this routine with at least 15 cars including some worth more than $50,000.

“There’s some Mercedes. There’s some Audis. Some of them are high-end cars,” he said.

Stokes then allegedly changed the VIN numbers of the cars and used stolen title documents from other states to get the cars re-titled in Ohio so he didn’t have to make the financing payments.

“The way he was making money on all these cars is, he was acting as a rental agency to drug dealers or other criminal organizations who needed a car,” Bergausen said.

The prosecutor says the key was purchasing cars from other states and bringing them to Ohio.

“So their original title records are in those states,” he said. “And while you might think that the Ohio title offices would coordinate with those states, they don’t.”

Berghausen says, unfortunately, there’s no way to design a fool-proof system—or, in this case, one impervious to criminal activity.

“The criminals always figure out ways to manipulate the systems, and then we have to try to figure out ways to get one step in front of [them,]” he said.

If convicted, Stokes faces upwards of 50 years in prison.

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