Eugene and Maria Chen, husband and wife, have been exporting luxury cars to China by scamming innocent people. The number of victims is estimated at 100. The cost to the victims is about five million dollars.
The couple previously owned 888 Auto in Sunnyvale, CA. Since 2008 this is how they operate the scam:
- Recruit “heads” to lease cars for them. By paying $500 cash per car, they recruited 100 or so individuals into leasing (so- called straw purchases). After they got the cars, they shipped them overseas without paying off the lease as they have promised. Those individuals are left with ruined credit and legal pursuits from the car dealers. The victims were friends, acquaintances, former employees, college schoolmates,even their mail carrier. Some of them don’t speak English, and are utterly helpless when facing litigations. By 2011, 2012, a large number of the victims settled the cases with the car dealers using their own money. One individual paid $220,000 for five cars. Some filed bankruptcy.
- Forging credit applications. In order to lease multiple cars under one name, they forge untrue job positions, salaries and signatures. That’s why an average-income person can lease up to five cars.
- Identity theft. They use the ID information of their prior customers, and go lease cars for them.
- Swindle. They have swindled money out of the customers who paid them full cash for cars. Such victims include individuals and car exporters. In 2011, about 1.5 million dollars were paid to the Chens, but no cars delivered.
- Forge loan: Some customers found they had a loan after they paid cash. Again, by forging the credit applications, the Chens stole the money.
Now the Chens face numerous lawsuits in Santa Clara County and Alameda County. Those lawsuits were filed by victims, their business partners and their landlord. The victims have reported to local police departments, FBI and Santa Clara Sheriff office. It is believed that this case is now in the hands of US attorney San Francisco office.
Unfortunately, the slow pace of US judicial system has allowed the Chens to delude more innocent people. The latest fraud occurred in December, 2012. A senior lady was drawn to the church founded by the Chens, and by common belief, she trusted them and gave them $20,000 cash to buy a car. Again, the Chens took her money and didn’t deliver a car.
My husband is also a victim. We paid $52,000 to Mercedez Benz recently for a leased MB GL 550 2009. Compared to other victims, we are lucky. We had only one car.
Why do so many people fall prey to their tricks? For one thing, Maria is a convincing speaker, and her noble image as a philanthropist helps her get her way. I was one of Maria’s close friends before the betrayal. Their “spectacular misdeed” is a story that one could only encounter once in a lifetime.
In July 2011, the Chinese media in Bay Area reported the story after a group of victims held a press conference. The Chens admitted that they have disappointed their customers and apologized. But what happened next proved that they are still up to their dirty tricks. 888 Auto disappeared in 2012 but now they have returned and changed the name to Hope Auto.
As long as the Chens keep running their operation, no one can leave their door untouched.