ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Rick Benavidez, 47, of Albuquerque, pleaded guilty on April 29 in federal court to two counts of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of submitting fraudulent returns, statements or other documents to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Benavidez will remain on release pending sentencing, which has not been scheduled.
A federal grand jury indicted Benavidez on Feb. 27, 2019. According to the plea agreement and other court records, from April 18, 2013, to May 31, 2013, Benavidez conspired with Damian Maron, and another man to submit fraudulent documentation, including altered pay stubs, to two credit unions to receive automobile loans. The altered pay stubs, which were provided to the applicant by Benavidez, supported a false claim that the applicant’s annual income was $85,000, when in fact it was only approximately $8,000 for 2013. The loan applications at both credit unions used the title for the same car, a 2007 Mercedes S Class, which was not for sale and which none of the men had any intention of purchasing. The funds were disbursed to “Automotive Express, Inc.,” a fictitious car dealership. The conspirators split the money, and the loan went into default.
Benavidez admitted in his plea that the fraudulently obtained loans in the guise of purchasing the Mercedes were part of a larger scheme using multiple straw applicants to obtain similar loans. As a result, defrauded financial institutions disbursed a total of $359,662.97.
Benavidez also acknowledged an additional loan scheme involving another alleged conspirator, Willie Lee Edwards, who is currently wanted by the FBI. The conspirators in this second scheme applied for a total of $1,154,493.42, of which $999,993.42 was disbursed by financial institutions.
After being charged with conspiracy and bank fraud, Benavidez submitted a false document to the IRS purporting to designate the assigned U.S. District Court judge as his fiduciary, knowing that the designation was false because the judge had not agreed to it and was not, nor had he ever been, Benavidez’s legal fiduciary.
Maron pleaded guilty on March 10, 2020, to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of bank fraud, and is currently awaiting sentencing. Maron faces up to 30 years in prison.
By the terms of the plea agreement, Benavidez faces between 51 and 63 months in prison.
The FBI Albuquerque Field Office investigated this case with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General. Assistant United States Attorneys Sean J. Sullivan and Taylor F. Hartstein are prosecuting the case.
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