DANVERS — A father and son shopping for cars together, a man who wanted to surprise his wife with a convertible for their anniversary, and potentially some two dozen other Massachusetts residents are among the victims of a sophisticated scheme to sell stolen luxury vehicles, prosecutors allege.
Two men were indicted earlier this month by an Essex County grand jury on multiple counts of conspiracy stemming from their alleged roles in the scheme.
Elvis Francois, 41, of Miami, Florida, is facing three counts of conspiracy, while Robert Pagliarulo, 48, of Kingston, New Hampshire, is charged with a total of nine counts, including conspiracy, money laundering, selling vehicles with defaced serial numbers, receiving stolen vehicles, passing forged instruments, and selling secondhand vehicles without a used car dealer’s license.
State police and the National Insurance Crime Bureau began looking into the situation last spring after Registry of Motor Vehicles computers flagged a number of transactions involving what were suspected as forged titles from Florida and other states, court papers show.
The cars and SUVs all turned out to be stolen, many of them from auto rental agencies, investigators said. Because the vehicles were stolen, police seized them from customers, leaving them without their pricey rides.
Two of those SUVs were sold to a Saugus father and his 21-year-old son. After his son’s vehicle title was flagged by the Registry, the father told investigators that they had been approached by a man last June as they walked around the lot of an Infiniti dealership on Route 114 in Danvers. The son had received a settlement from an accident and was interested in high-end cars.
The man who approached the pair, now believed to be Pagliarulo, allegedly told them that he and his girlfriend had recently moved up from Florida and were trying to sell his car, a 2017 Infiniti Q60.
Soon after that, the father and son met Pagliarulo again, this time in an area behind the Infiniti dealership. For $30,000 in cash, they were handed the keys to the Q60 and a Florida title.
Then, the seller offered the father another deal: a 2017 Infiniti QX80 for $35,000 (about half the price of a new model). Again, the deal was made in cash, behind the dealership (which does not appear to have had any knowledge of what was happening).
Police later seized the two SUVs and confirmed that one had been stolen from Hertz and the other from Enterprise last spring.
Another victim was a Methuen man who paid $28,000 for a 2016 BMW 328i that turned out to have been stolen from Sixt, another Florida rental agency.
But on this car, investigators found a fingerprint which led them to Francois, who has a record of similar crimes.
In August, investigators went to the home of a Peabody woman whose husband had surprised her with a 2017 Ford Mustang for their anniversary.
When they spoke to her husband, he said he’d learned about a guy named “Bob” from a family friend who had also purchased a car, a 2016 Nissan Maxima, from him. The husband paid $26,000 for the Mustang, using a check from his business.
They also learned that “Bob” — believed to be Pagliarulo — had used an auto transportation company located near the Infiniti dealership on Route 114 to bring the cars up from Florida. There is no indication that the transportation company knew the vehicles were stolen. Investigators say that the vehicle identification number plates visible from the windshield had been replaced with fake ones.
The Ford Mustang, it turns out, belonged to Enterprise and had been reported stolen in Florida.
All of the vehicles allegedly sold by Pagliarulo — who was not licensed to sell them — had altered or hidden vehicle identification numbers, which are embossed on multiple locations in vehicles. And investigators confirmed with Florida motor vehicle officials that the Florida titles the buyers had been given were forgeries.
Pagliarulo is charged in Essex County with selling seven stolen vehicles, which also included a 2015 BMW 528i and a 2017 Chevrolet Tahoe.
Francois is currently wanted on a warrant issued earlier this year by a Salem District Court judge.
Pagliarulo is expected to be sent a summons to appear in court next month.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.