CASE UPDATE: Attorney General Shapiro Announces Guilty Pleas by “Operation Car Wash” Crime Ring
Organized crime ring members who fraudulently obtained thousands of PA license plates face jail time and up to $1.5 million in restitution
HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced that nine people and 10 businesses that fraudulently obtained more than a thousand Pennsylvania license plates and used them to fuel a massive criminal enterprise across multiple states have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. The organized crime ring broken up by the Attorney General’s Office was known as “Operation Car Wash.”
The ring leader, Rafael Levi, 51, of Brooklyn, New York, entered an open guilty plea in Dauphin County Common Pleas Court on Friday to 36 third-degree felonies. Each felony count carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years imprisonment and a fine of up to $15,000. Sentencing for Levi was deferred pending a pre-sentencing investigation.
“The organized criminal ring led by Rafael Levi used legitimate business tactics – applying for licenses, insurance, car loans and purchases – for totally illegitimate purposes,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “From fraudulent license plates to phony car titles and other frauds, they gamed the system to rack up millions in illegal profits. Now, they’re facing justice.”
Attorney General Shapiro’s office is seeking restitution of more than $1.5 million from the defendants. As part of his plea, Levi has agreed to forfeit numerous luxury vehicles, including a 2015 Rolls Royce Wraith, a 2015 Ferrari, a 2007 Ferrari F430 and other cars, which will be liquidated by the Commonwealth to partially satisfy the restitution.
Levi also pled guilty on behalf of nine businesses, each of which will be ordered to pay a fine of $10,000 and a civil penalty of $15,000 to the Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority – a total of $225,000 in penalties.
Eight other “Operation Car Wash” defendants entered pleas on Friday to various crimes, including theft by deception, insurance fraud and washing vehicle titles, among other offenses. Other members of the crime ring previously pled guilty. In addition to Levi and the nine businesses, the following defendants entered guilty pleas Friday:
- Edward Leyberman
- April Levy
- Cody Levy
- Michael Levy
- Brian Estrella
- Morris Harary
- Kelly Rogers
- Sal Maniscalco
- Prestige AAA Sales, Inc.
By illegally renting out Pennsylvania license plates in New York City and other locations, the crime ring reaped enormous profits and allowed those who used the fraudulent plates to avoid paying more than $1 million in parking fines and EZ Pass tolls across several states.
The charges, filed in April 2017, followed an extensive investigation by the Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Section and a statewide investigative grand jury. This investigation began after the Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Section received information from the Pennsylvania State Police. More details about the investigation can be found here.
“We broke up this organized crime ring because of strong collaboration with law enforcement agencies and our effective use of the grand jury,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Law enforcement cooperation shut Operation Car Wash down. We thank the Pennsylvania State Police, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and every other agency that helped us with this complex case.”
As a result of the Attorney General’s office investigation in this case, PennDOT has implemented reforms to prevent this kind of fraud in the future. One example: when used car dealers apply for a bulk number of license plates, PennDOT now conducts a financial analysis, using sales data from the dealerships, to determine whether the number of license plates applied for is supported by the data.
This case was prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Robert LaBar and Deputy Attorney General Kristyne Sharpe of the Attorney General’s Insurance Fraud Section.
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