Former Russian mobster sentenced for $9M unique automotive leasing fraud scheme in Atlanta

Mani Chulpayev, the mastermind behind a luxurious automotive leasing scheme that spanned Atlanta and Miami from 2009 to 2016, has been sentenced to jail and ordered to pay over $4.6 million in restitution. The sentencing comes on account of his arrest in October 2020, hiding in Ukraine beneath a faux identification whereas working as a film producer. The case marks the conclusion of “Operation Using Soiled,” a collaborative effort by a number of companies concentrating on a fancy community of drug traffickers, cash launderers, and corrupt officers.

U.S. Legal professional Ryan Ok. Buchanan remarked, “Chulpayev ran a classy scheme that inflicted huge losses on banks and the people he recruited to help his fraudulent scheme.” Chulpayev utilized a fleet of unique automobiles obtained via his fraud to allow drug traffickers to function, evade detection, and launder their illicit proceeds.

In accordance with courtroom paperwork, Chulpayev, born within the Soviet Union, moved to the USA on the age of 12. By age 20, he was already concerned in organized crime in New York, partaking in extortion, arson, kidnapping, human trafficking, and varied frauds. After serving jail time for federal convictions, he moved to Atlanta, the place he operated a chop store and later began a automotive leasing enterprise catering to drug traffickers.

Chulpayev’s modus operandi concerned recruiting straw purchasers to purchase luxurious automobiles of their names, which have been then leased to others, together with drug traffickers and high-profile shoppers. These straw purchasers have been left accountable for mortgage funds, resulting in defaults and substantial losses for banks. Chulpayev orchestrated the acquisition of over 115 automobiles, together with Bentleys, Aston Martins, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Porsches, price greater than $9 million.

One in every of Chulpayev’s shoppers, Kevin Johnson, chief of a drug trafficking operation in Atlanta, leased a number of flashy automobiles for his operation. Johnson and his associates have been convicted of federal drug trafficking costs, resulting in a derivative investigation that resulted within the conviction of 17 U.S. Postal Service workers for accumulating bribes to ship drug packages.

Chulpayev additionally cultivated relationships with corrupt regulation enforcement brokers, utilizing them to repossess automobiles, arrest opponents, and keep away from arrest himself. Detective Robert Bentivegna, a Activity Power Officer with the U.S. Secret Service, obtained bribes from Chulpayev within the type of airline tickets, authorized charges, and luxurious automobiles for his youngsters. Bentivegna was convicted of federal laptop entry crimes and sentenced to jail.

Chulpayev was additionally a suspect within the homicide of rapper Lil’ Phat, who was killed in considered one of his leased automobiles in 2012. It was believed that Chulpayev put out the hit on the rapper, whose actual identify was Melvin Vernell III. The homicide costs have been dropped in 2015 and an Alabama gang member is doing life for gunning down Lil’ Phat at Northside Hospital. 

Mani Chulpayev, often known as “Mani Chilpayen” and “Immanuel Cohen,” has been sentenced to 10 years in jail, adopted by three years of supervised launch, and ordered to pay restitution of $4,663,978.73. He pleaded responsible to conspiracy to commit financial institution and mail fraud on July 31, 2023.

The next defendants have been beforehand convicted as a part of Operation Using Soiled:

  • Lyle Stephen Livesay, 36, of Colbert, was sentenced on July 15, 2021, to eight years, one month in jail (with credit score for 4 years served on a previous conviction), adopted by three years of supervised launch, and ordered to pay restitution of $2,644,722.15, after pleading responsible to conspiracy to commit financial institution and mail fraud and conspiracy to commit cash laundering.
  • Paul Alexander Carruth, 39, of Boynton Seashore, Florida, was sentenced on November 28, 2018, to 5 years in jail, adopted by three years of supervised launch, and ordered to pay restitution of $93,498.36, after pleading responsible to conspiracy to commit financial institution fraud, mail fraud, and cash laundering.
  • Kimberly Ann Reiss, 38, of Miami Seashore, Florida, was sentenced on July 15, 2021, to 5 years in jail, adopted by three years of supervised launch, and ordered to pay restitution of $2,674,563.05, after pleading responsible to conspiracy to commit financial institution and mail fraud and conspiracy to commit cash laundering.
  • Kevin Michael Johnson, 48, of Lilburn, was sentenced on June 16, 2016, to 6 years, six months in jail, adopted by 4 years of supervised launch, after pleading responsible to conspiracy to own with the intent to distribute managed substances.
  • Walter Ray Hamilton, 42, of Stone Mountain, was sentenced on November 2, 2016, to 6 years, three months in jail, adopted by six years of supervised launch, after pleading responsible to conspiracy to own with the intent to distribute managed substances and sustaining a spot for distributing medicine inside 1,000 ft of a faculty.
  • James Robert Jones, often known as “Sean Jones,” 50, of Dallas, was sentenced on November 2, 2016, to 5 years, ten months in jail, adopted by three years of supervised launch, after pleading responsible to conspiracy to own with the intent to distribute managed substances.
  • Jeorge Collier, 38, of Lithonia, was sentenced on December 21, 2017, to 5 years, one month in jail, adopted by seven years of supervised launch, after pleading responsible to conspiracy to own with the intent to distribute managed substances and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
  • Eric Swiney, 51, of Forest Park, was sentenced on Could 10, 2016, to 5 years, ten months in jail, adopted by 4 years of supervised launch, after pleading responsible to conspiracy to own with the intent to distribute managed substances.
  • Robert Pasquale Bentivegna, 73, of Woodstock, was sentenced on June 30, 2015, to 2 months in jail, adopted by two years of supervised launch, and ordered to pay a wonderful of $1,500, after pleading responsible to unauthorized use of a pc.

Moreover, from Feb. 13, 2018, to March 30, 2023, 17 U.S. Postal Service workers and one non-postal worker have been convicted in 4 separate indictments and sentenced to a spread of three to 9 years of jail for bribery, conspiracy to distribute managed substances, try to distribute managed substances, and unlawfully utilizing the mail to distribute managed substances.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with help from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Safety Investigations and the USA Marshals Service. Assistant U.S. Legal professional Garrett L. Bradford prosecuted the case as a part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Activity Forces (OCDETF) operation. 

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