ST. GEORGE – A St. George man charged by the state with multiple counts of fraud made his first appearance in Fifth District Court Friday.
Richard “Rabbit” Downward, 42, of St. George, appeared before Judge Jeffery Wilcox Friday at 1:30 p.m. via video feed from the Purgatory Correctional Facility. Downward is accused of multiple counts of communication fraud – second-degree felonies; one count of a pattern of unlawful activity – also a second-degree felony; and two counts of equity skimming of vehicles – a third-degree felony.
The charges stem from an investigation surrounding Executive Auto Group, Downward’s used car dealership. Agents of the Utah State Tax Commission’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division executed a search warrant at Executive Auto Group on Thursday.
Sgt. Eric McPherson, one of the Division agents, said the warrant was the culmination of six months worth of investigation into the dealership. He also said the Division has been working closely with the Washington County Attorney’s Office concerning the matter.
Executive Auto Group’s business license was revoked by the state and Downward was taken into custody and booked into jail Thursday afternoon.
Communications fraud: In general, state code describes it as “…any scheme … to defraud another or to obtain from another money, property, or anything of value by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises, or material omissions, and who communicates directly or indirectly with any person by any means for the purpose of executing or concealing the scheme…”
Penalties for communications fraud depend on the value of the property, money, etc. involved.
Equity skimming from a vehicle: From state code – an individual “is guilty of equity skimming of a vehicle if he transfers or arranges the transfer of a vehicle for consideration or profit, when he knows or should have known the vehicle is subject to a lease or security interest, without first obtaining written authorization of the lessor or holder of the security interest.”
Pattern of unlawful activity: Any potential criminal activity repeated at least three or more times, are not isolated incidents, and share similar characteristics in each incident.
Washington County Deputy Attorney Jerry Jaeger said the County Attorney’s Office doesn’t come across this many fraud charges that often.
He also said many of the cars at Executive Auto Group are bank-owned, and fraud was committed when Downward allegedly sold a vehicle without the bank’s authorization, or issued fraudulent paperwork regarding a transaction. In some cases, the bank has retrieved the vehicles, not from the car dealership, but from the individuals who bought them.
“It’s frustrating a lot of the time for the buyer,” Jaeger said.
Judge Wilcox set Downward’s bail at $90,000. The defense asked if the bail could be lowered but was denied. A bail review hearing has been set for March 7 at 9 a.m.
Ed. correction: March 12, 2013. This report has been amended to remove erroneous identification of owners and entity previously operating a dealership on the subject property.
McPherson said that the current action is not related to any prior actions involving those parties.
St. George News inquiry concerning any connection between the action against Downward in this report and a Feb. 28 federal action against Jason Vowell, principal of the former Executive Auto Sales, Inc., which operated on the same property, is pending response from the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Persons arrested are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
- St. George auto dealer shut down
- Hands on hands down to win an old car – see inset to this report on current status.
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