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Baltimore man charged in rent-to-own scam

The U.S. Secret Service has charged a Baltimore man with running a fraudulent rent-to-own car business that allegedly had victims paying him up to $1,000 in down payments to rent a car for a few weeks with no chance of ownership.

The U.S. Secret Service, which has jurisdiction over some financial crimes, charged Lamondes D. Williams, 41, formerly of Clinton, with one count of wire fraud on Friday. Investigators allege Williams and an employee, Erica R. Brown, 28, of Laurel, used Internet and print ads to recruit customers for the business.

According to court documents, Williams, through MyAutoMotoStore, a subsidiary of his $hopAtoZSuperMall business, advertised a service where customers would make a down payment, and after making monthly payments they would own the vehicle. In three instances, an investigator said customers paid cash up front and were taken to a car rental agency where Williams would negotiate the rental, but the person signed the actual contract.

The victims were told the rentals were being run through Williams’ corporate account. However, in court documents, investigators said Williams would only make the payments for a few days or weeks without telling the customers. The victims said their down payments were not returned.

In one instance, a man told the investigator he responded to an ad encouraging people with bad credit to call for assistance in getting a car. Williams reportedly told the man he could get a car if he paid a $2,000 down payment and then made monthly payments.

The man paid $750 toward the down payment, and he and Williams went to a car rental agency and rented a late model Dodge Charger. The man said he signed the rental contract but was told the account was being handled through Williams’ corporate account. After a week, the man said, the rental agency called him and said he needed to return the car and pay an additional $213 to bring the account current since the corporate account was terminated.

Williams has faced other criminal charges for similar businesses, and in 2005 he was convicted in Prince George’s County Circuit Court for theft and for operating a pyramid scheme. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but five of the years suspended. At the time of the Secret Service investigation, Williams was wanted for failing to appear in court for violating the terms of probation in the 2005 case.

He was also targeted in a May 2005 cease-and-desist order issued by the Maryland Attorney General over a “fraudulent investment scheme” that offered commissions and the use of an apartment or car in exchange for bringing in new investors.

The rent-to-own website remained active as of Monday buried among the clipart, and dozens of links of the main $hopAtoZSuperMall website. According to the site, customers can rent and then own cars from Nissan Sentras to Porsche Cayenne SUVs for fees ranging from $1,000 to $12,000.

The rent-to-own business is also used as a feeder to Williams’ other ventures. Customers applying for help in getting a car are offered free “credit repair” but are required to apply for a credit card, pick a pre-paid wireless phone carrier and enroll in one of Williams’ “networking” sites. Potential customers are told they must include phone numbers or e-mail addresses of 100 acquaintances with the application, but will be rewarded with trips and other perks if they do.

“The points you earn from you and the members you referred buying different products and services the more FREE gifts & vehicle upgrades you receive!!!” the website reads.

To explain the referral business, the website includes a pyramid-shaped flowchart with a small number of people on top bringing in groups of people below them.

“It’s not who you know, but who they know!” the site says.

One comment

  1. Amazing how people scheme too get other people already having hardships money