Miracle Car Club Bogus Estate Sale Advance Fee Fraud
On May 8, 2002, Gwendolyn Baker, aka Gwen Baker, of Memphis, Tennessee, James R. Nichols of Carson, California and Robert Gomez of Bell, California were the subject of a 23 count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Missouri which alleges a number of illegal activities including fraud and money laundering.
According to the indictment they obtained approximately $16 million from individuals throughout the United States for the purchase of more than 7,000 vehicles that did not exist in a conspiracy that lasted from October 1, 1998 until the date of the indictment.
The company, which listed Dr. Gwen Baker as the owner, and operated as Auto Emporium Estate Referral Service, Gwen Baker Estate Representative, Miracle Car Club and Miracle Cars, was said to offer auto, furniture and real estate referral services. According to the company it is one of several representatives for the estate of a "John Bowers" and that the estate was selling some 4,000 vehicles at reduced prices in order to reduce the taxes on the estate.
Because there was a supposed "gag order" issued by a probate judge no information concerning the actual location of the vehicles or the vehicle identification numbers could be released, according to Ms. Baker and the company though the vehicles were to be "released" from probate on March 25, 2002.
The hook in this particular case is that you have to pay for the vehicle in advance and you will only get your choice of vehicle once the "estate" is settled.
Gomez, a professional gambler, allegedly claimed to be the adopted son of "John Bowers" and sole heir to the supposed estate. Nichols claimed to be the executor of the "estate". Baker, who referred to Nichols and Gomez as "godsons", allegedly distributed lists of automobiles and other vehicles to individuals, churches, religious groups and other organizations nationwide offering the "miracle cars" for sale at bargain prices to "reward" people for their religious faith.
The "solicitations" came in the form of price sheets with an accompanying descriptive memo to buy luxury vehicles at so called fire sale prices but had no verifiable facts. One example given was a 1999 Navigator for $5,000. Individuals have generally paid amounts from $1500 to $5000 for these so-called "estate" vehicles to many operations similar to this one across the country.
According to the indictment, of the approximately $16 million taken in the scheme, some $6 million was returned to individuals who requested refunds. Of the remaining $10 million, nearly $7 million was transferred to Gomez through various gambling casinos in southern California.
Nichols allegedly spent more than $250,000 to purchase numerous automobiles and motorcycles for his own use. Gwen Baker allegedly received $20,000 to $30,000 per month for her role in handling the money from purchasers.
If convicted as charged in the indictment, Nichols and Baker could each be subject to a sentence of up to 275 years in prison without parole plus a fine of $7 million. Gomez faces a potential sentence of 235 years and $6 million fine.