Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Wednesday announced the filing of felony charges against Laurence Sessum III, owner of now-defunct Maxx Auto Sales.
To protect Sessum's customers, Schneiderman also filed a civil lawsuit against Sessum and obtained an order freezing his assets.
Sessum is accused of taking more than $100,000 in payments from dozens of consumers for vehicles he never delivered.
It is believed that Sessum collected the payments from consumers to raise money to make restitution for a previous conviction. Prior to the Attorney General's investigation, Sessum was prosecuted by the Erie County District Attorney for a separate crime. In that case, he pleaded guilty to stealing more than $500,000 from the New York State Tax Department. In order to avoid jail time, the court informed Sessum that if he paid $50,000 in restitution, the court would be inclined to give him probation.
"New Yorkers should be able to rest assured that when they buy a car, they will be legally protected and the transaction will be above board," said Schneiderman. "This is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, where money was taken from consumers and used to pay off a previous crime. I am committed to using all of our legal tools to stop crime sprees like this in its tracks."
Sessum is charged with one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, four counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree. If convicted, Sessum could be incarcerated for up to 2-1/2 to 7 years in prison.
The Attorney General's investigation, which began in April 2011, alleges that Sessum operated a "buy here-pay here" used car dealership called Maxx Auto Sales, located at 2780 Bailey Avenue in Buffalo. Dozens of consumers filed complaints with Schneiderman's office stating they had made down payments and/or payments in full but never received their vehicles.
The District Attorney's investigation discovered that from February 29, 2005 through August 31, 2009, Sessum stole $503,786.12 in sales tax money from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. The funds were paid to him by consumers. He was prosecuted by the DA and on December 20, 2010, he pled guilty to a felony and paid $50,000 in restitution. The sentencing court advised Sessum that it would be inclined to sentence Sessum to probation if he paid $50,000 in restitution on his sentencing date.
According to the court papers, to obtain that $50,000 payment, Sessum again resorted to criminal behavior. Sessum took more than $100,000 in payments from dozens of consumers on the promise to deliver motor vehicles to them, but never did.
Sessum's alleged deceptive business practices include the following:
• If a consumer purchased the vehicle from Sessum's lot, he told the consumer that the vehicle would be ready for delivery shortly, citing the need to service the vehicle. But the vehicles were never ready nor delivered to the buyer.
• If Sessum did not have the vehicle the consumer wanted on the lot, he promised he could get it if the consumer made a down payment. He did not make good on his promises.
• Sessum "sold" vehicles that he did not own.
• Sessum sold the same vehicles more than once.
After getting enough money to pay the restitution, Sessum abruptly shut his dealership down leaving dozens of consumers without down payments and vehicles.
The current charges against Sessum are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.