A Warminster man was charged Thursday with raking in up to $2 million from Russian citizens who federal prosecutors say were duped into buying cars from his New Jersey dealership.
Sergey Kapustin, 47, was arrested on wire fraud charges for collecting payments from more than 140 foreigners who never received their ordered cars.
Authorities allege that Kapustin, through Global Auto Group, Effect Auto Sales, and G Auto Sales, all in Elizabeth, ran one or more Russian-language websites that offered luxury cars at low prices.
Customers from Russia, Ukraine, or other former Soviet Bloc states would choose a car, then wire Kapustin the full amount for it - usually between $20,000 and $50,000, according to court filings.
"His websites were geared to buyers who believed they were getting a 'good deal' from a fellow countryman who could be trusted to follow through," the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey said in a statement Thursday.
But the cars would never arrive, and Kapustin would allegedly continue to extort money by saying the car had been damaged, then offering a different one and collecting a fee for it.
When Kapustin did ship cars to Finland, where the customers were supposed to pick them up, they were usually salvaged vehicles that had been flooded with saltwater, authorities said. More often, Kapustin did not actually possess the cars he was advertising online.
Kapustin appeared in federal court in Newark on Thursday afternoon. One alleged victim told the FBI that he or she sent nearly $17,000 for a car in 2012, only to be told by one of Kapustin's employees that the car had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy and for $6,000 more, the customer could get another car instead. Kapustin allegedly shipped that car to Finland, but employees there told the customer they would not release the car without additional charges. The customer was never refunded the $22,920 spent.
According to public records, Kapustin also had recent addresses in Philadelphia, Southampton, and Huntingdon Valley. His public defender did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.