Federal prosecutors indicted five men in an auto dealer bank-fraud case Wednesday, including the man behind a popular Suzuki car empire that went bust two years ago.
John Cornelius Dangerfield -- also known as Johnny Dangerfield -- was named in connection to operations at several car dealerships locally and elsewhere in the state.
In one instance, prosecutors said, a dog played an unwitting role in the alleged fraud.
The far-ranging indictment, announced by U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles, contends that between July 2004 and February 2009, Dangerfield and his co-defendants conspired to defraud a federally insured bank, Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank, by making misrepresentations to auditors about the status of vehicles being sold.
As a result, the indictment alleges, the group obtained approximately $3.8 million from a Fifth Third line of credit covering approximately 190 cars.
The defendants are alleged to have "sold the cars and then failed to pay to the bank," according to the indictment.
Dangerfield, 48, of Moncks Corner once was a well-known fixture on Charleston TV. His practice was to blanket the airwaves with weekend informercials to advertise his lineup of cars and deals. But the sputtering economy caught up with him, forcing him to close down.
When he shuttered his Suzuki and Subaru lots in early 2009, it left the Charleston area without any local sellers of those brands, though new dealers have since stepped in to fill the void.
Dangerfield was reported to have owned four Suzuki dealerships, including stores in Moncks Corner, Summerville, Myrtle Beach and Easley during the time of the alleged conspiracy, prosecutors said. He also is identified with a Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership in Easley and another Subaru-Isuzu dealership in Charleston.
Dangerfield's attorney, Lionel S. Lofton, issued a statement Thursday saying his client vehemently denied the charges in the allegation, and that Dangerfield had undergone IRS audits during the time of the alleged fraud, even getting a substantial refund.
In another part of the indictment, federal prosecutors contend that the dealerships also misrepresented that cars were being sold in connection to obtaining incentive sales money from Suzuki "when the cars were not, in fact, sold."
In one instance, the indictment alleges, one of the defendants "represented that his dog had purchased a car."
The others indicted alongside Dangerfield were Robert George Low, 70, of Moncks Corner; Daniel James Cory Cadden, 42, of Moncks Corner; Lloyd Ray Hayes, whose age was not disclosed, of North Charleston; and Jeffrey Michael Belsky, 42, of Easley.
Each was indicted on one-count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money-laundering. Dangerfield was indicted on an additional three counts of criminal structuring.
The conspiracy to commit bank fraud charge carries a maximum of 30 years imprisonment; the conspiracy to commit money laundering charge carries a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. The criminal-structuring charges each carry a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.
The case was investigated by agents of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations unit and the FBI. A hearing had not been set as of Wednesday.