DANVERS — A Swampscott man will spend the next 21/2 years in jail after admitting yesterday to swindling customers of his Danvers auto sales business out of their cars and cash.
Daniel Wright, 46, pleaded guilty during a hearing in Salem Superior Court to four counts of larceny and four forgery and forgery-related charges. Prosecutors were seeking to send him to state prison for four to six years.
Instead, when Wright is released from jail, in as little as 15 months, he’ll have a $53,000 restitution bill and a potential for up to 40 years in prison if he doesn’t pay up.
Wright and his lawyer say he was simply trying to save his business, Sterling Motor Cars, on a stretch of Route 114 filled with other auto dealerships.
“He was robbing Peter to pay Paul,” prosecutor Michael Patten told Judge Howard Whitehead during the sentencing hearing. “It’s not a justification. It’s still a crime to rob Peter.”
“These were bona fide consumers,” Patten said. “They did not expect to be put in the position they found themselves in.”
And for those customers, that position was awful: a young widowed mother trying to finance an SUV by selling her late husband’s Mercedes; another young woman who bought a Jeep only to have the police show up and return it to its owner, who hadn’t been paid for it; and another woman who was persuaded by Wright to take out a $15,749 car loan from a credit union, only to find out that the car she was buying was not available and that Wright had all the money.
“I trusted Dan at my most vulnerable time,” said Stacey Chicoine, a Melrose woman who had just lost her husband, Joey, 42, to brain cancer and was trying to care for a set of 9-month-old twins.