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Fraud case the largest the county has ever seen

Almost two weeks after Vienna resident Kendall Richards was sentenced to eight years in prison for the theft of more than $1 million from a Marietta resident, questions are still being raised about things not brought up in court.

“This was $1 million,” Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said. “It was the biggest theft Washington County has ever had.”

Richards, 49, of 1740 Forest Hills Drive, pleaded guilty in April 2018 to one count of theft. He was given until Oct. 18, 2018 to pay restitution of approximately $1.238 million to Marietta resident James Vuksic. So far, the only money Vuksic has been paid is $22,000 from the sale of a Jeep.

The case began in May 2016, when the victim’s legal counsel contacted Mincks and advised his client had invested more than $1 million in a project involving a strong U.S. dollar versus a week Canadian dollar.

Mincks said Richards proposed to investors in the Mid-Ohio Valley that he had Canadian business accounts to purchase vehicles at Canadian auto auctions. He allegedly told investigators that he had connections with auctions and importers and could get the vehicles transferred to the U.S. within days. He reportedly said West Virginia was the best state in which to title the vehicles, since the title fee was the least expensive in the U.S.

Mincks said Richards’ plan was allegedly simple. He would use the funds to purchase vehicles in Canada at a 30 percent cost reduction. He would import them into the U.S., title them in West Virginia and sell them at auto auctions in West Virginia. The investor would get the funds back, plus interest and a percentage of profits. Richards would then get a percentage of the profits and all expenses paid.

Vuksic accepted the offer and wired more than $1 million to auto auctions in Canada to accounts titled in Richards’ business name. Richards and others went to Canada and attended auto auctions, purchasing 36 vehicles, Mincks said. He paid $1,443,361.03 in Canadian dollars, and the U.S. value was $1,049,861.

Richards allegedly told the investigator the vehicles had not made it through U.S. customs. Instead, he brought them into the U.S. and sold them at auction in New York, keeping one for himself to use, Mincks said.

One of the bigger questions still being asked is ‘what happened to the money?’

“It was gone. There was nothing left,” Mincks said.

The sheriff’s office traced the money through Delaware, Arizona, New York and Canada. According to Mincks, the morning after Richards was advised he was under criminal investigation, bank statements show Richards went to five banks in Wood County, withdrawing $60,000.

“The Washington County Sheriff’s team traced all the funds Richards stole and where it went, except for $184,000 in cash that Richards withdrew from banks,” Mincks said.

Almost half of the money went to business expenses for Sundowner Auto Sales, as well as loans, inventory, credit cards and utilities.

Mincks said the investigation showed that after Richards was advised he was under criminal investigation, he applied for a refund of the Canadian export tax and obtained a tax refund of $77,417.

“He also spent the $77,000 tax refund. He applied and got that money, too,” Mincks said.

The sheriff’s detective bureau teamed up with Interpol, the West Virginia State Police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, U.S. Customs, the U.S. Treasury Department Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the forensic unit at Perry & Associates, certified public accountants.

“There was a lot involved. I don’t think there has been a scheme like this here,” Mincks said.

Washington County Prosecutor Nicole Coil said Mincks’ breakdown of where the money went confirmed what many people thought.

“The breakdown of Kendall Richards’ use of the investment funds confirms that he selfishly largely used Mr. Vuksic’s investment to pay his own business and personal debts,” Coil said. “Jail calls also confirmed that Mr. Richards made the calculated decision to retain whatever cash or other funds that remained after these debts were paid for his family’s benefit, rather than to pay Mr. Vuksic any part of the money which he is owed.”

She said Richards has failed to pay Vuksic, despite having income sources to do so.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

• Questions are still being raised about the case involving Vienna resident Kendall Richards.

• Richards was sentenced on April 3 to eight years in prison for the theft of more than $1 million.

• This was the largest fraud case Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks has worked on.

•The team from the sheriff’s office worked in several states and Canada on the case.

Source: Times research.

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