BOSTON -- A Tyngsboro service-station owner was sentenced to three years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiring with a Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicle (RMV) project manager to extort other service-station owners who wanted to obtain licenses to conduct vehicle-safety inspections.
Simon Abou Raad, 51, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge George A. O'Toole to three years in prison, two years of supervised release, a $10,000 fine and ordered to forfeit $360,000 in illegal proceeds, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
In December, Abou Raad pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy to extort money under color of official right.
Abou Raad owned service stations in Tewksbury and Tyngsboro. His co-defendant, Mark LaFrance, project manager for Vehicle Safety and Compliance Services at the RMV, oversaw the state's motor-vehicle inspection program.
In Massachusetts, applications to obtain a license to conduct motor-vehicle safety inspections are intended to be granted off a waiting list, with consideration given to geographic location.
An applicant for a vehicle-inspection license must pay a $100 fee; the actual equipment costs about $2,500. Late last year, the inspection network was at its capacity; therefore, the RMV was not granting new licenses off the waiting list.
LaFrance and Abou Raad operated what was essentially "a black market" for such licenses through the use of LaFrance's official position. LaFrance provided to Abou Raad a list of vehicle-inspection stations that had a low volume of inspections and/or were planning to surrender their licenses and sell inspection equipment.
Abou Raad then contacted the service-station owner and offered to buy the inspection license and equipment for prices usually in the range of $5,000 to $6,000. Abou Raad then offered to sell licenses and equipment to service-station owners desiring them for prices between $50,000 to $75,000.
Abou Raad then arranged the transaction to appear as if service-station owners selling and buying the licenses were merging as new business entities or with a change in ownership.
Although he was aware these purported mergers were not bona fide, LaFrance either approved the issuing of a new license or permitted others in the RMV to approve them.
After the fraudulent transactions were completed, and payment made to Abou Raad, he split the proceeds with LaFrance.
Through this scheme, Abou Raad sold at least 10 inspection licenses and/or machines for about $657,000.
In November, LaFrance was sentenced to three years in prison.