Federal agents arrested a Santa Rosa woman along with two others Friday morning on charges of embezzlement totaling millions of dollars in connection with the operation of three Marin County auto dealerships under the Sonnen Motorcars brand.
Arlette Casino, 47, was taken into custody along with fellow suspects Amir Bakhtiari, 50, of Newport Beach, and formerly of Marin County, and Austin Caba, 38, of Burlingame, according to acting U.S. Attorney Alex G. Tse of the Northern District of California.
The arrests follow an FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation unit probe. Each defendant faces a dozen or more felony charges in an alleged conspiracy and wire fraud scheme tied to Sonnen Volkswagen, Audi Marin and Porsche Marin from at least 2010 to 2016, an unsealed indictment revealed.
Bakhtiari served in the role of general manager for Audi Marin and Sonnen Volkswagen from 2009 to 2016, while Casino worked as Sonnen’s financial controller from 2013 to 2016.
She helped oversee an illegal system of payments out of the company’s bank accounts to cover fake invoices for advertisement work from nonexistent shell companies, according to the indictment.
With Casino’s knowledge, Bakhtiari is alleged to have directed approximately $6.3 million in fraudulent transfers in this manner, and $3.6 million of those funds were then returned to him by check. In addition, Bakhtiari and Caba maintained an American Express credit card and together spent approximately $1.7 million with the account.
Prosecutors did not say in their indictment what became of the rest of the money or how Bakhtiari disposed of the funds he received.
Bakhtiari and Casino are also charged with inflating the amount of scheduled bonuses, receiving cash in lieu of paid time off, which they concealed from Sonnen Motorcars’ majority owner, Peter Sonnen, and taking additional paid time off without authorization. Prosecutors noted that the indicted pair were executives who bore responsibility for the company’s financial health.
Messages left for Sonnen went unreturned Friday. Casino also did not respond to an email request for comment.
Bakhtiari, Casino and Caba all face one felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 13 felony counts of wire fraud.
If convicted, each charge carries the potential of up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 maximum fine, plus three years of supervised release.
Caba, who allegedly controlled two accounts associated with the shell companies, and Bakhtiari are each charged with four additional counts of engaging in monetary transactions, a felony that comes with up to 10 years of prison and a $250,000 maximum fine per count.
Bakhtiari was arraigned in a Santa Ana court Friday afternoon, according to a Northern District of California U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman, while Caba and Casino were both released on $100,000 bonds. Both are scheduled for appearances in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Friday to identify legal counsel.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.