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Newport Car Wholesaler Is Indicted Over Mileage : Grand jury: Prosecutors allege that he bought much-traveled cars, turned back odometers and sold them as low-mileage autos.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Newport Beach used car wholesaler Lawrence Lee Campbell was indicted Friday by a federal grand jury on 36 felony charges stemming from his alleged involvement in an automobile odometer tampering scheme.

The indictment, handed down here in U.S. District Court, was based on a state Department of Motor Vehicles investigation that began in Orange County in the late 1980s.

Campbell operated his used car wholesaling business from offices in Santa Ana for several years, beginning in 1984, according to Rande King, a DMV investigator in Irvine.

King said the indictment grew out of an inquiry over odometer tampering that involves several Orange County suspects.

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A second Newport Beach man, restaurant owner and former used car wholesaler Peter Sabatino Ognibene, is on trial in Superior Court in Santa Ana on nine felony grand theft charges involving the sale of 30 cars with altered odometers in 1984-87. King said that testimony in the five-week trial ended this week and that the jury began deliberations Friday.

He said his investigation revealed that both Ognibene and Campbell used the same Santa Ana mechanic--a man who died recently of liver cancer--to alter odometers.

King said he was surprised but encouraged by the federal indictment of Campbell. “It shows (that) people are taking this seriously and that we mean business,” he said.

Much of the case against Campbell was developed by investigator Ron Bach in the DMV’s West Covina field office. Bach declined comment Friday.

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In its announcement, the Justice Department said Campbell lives in Newport Beach. Department officials declined to elaborate on the written announcement, which did not give Campbell’s address, age or the name of his business.

The indictment charges Campbell with 18 counts of odometer tampering, 15 counts of possession of forged or counterfeit automobile titles and three counts of interstate transportation of forged or counterfeited securities.

Campbell allegedly bought high-mileage used cars, turned back the odometers and sold them to dealers as low-mileage used cars, the indictment said.

He obtained new California titles for the cars, listing the false mileage figures on them, and provided the falsified titles to dealers who bought the autos, the indictment said.

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The cars, mostly Fords of 1985-88 vintage, were resold on the wholesale used car market, sometimes out of state.

If convicted, Campbell faces up to 10 years of imprisonment on each of the securities charges and three years on each of the odometer tampering counts. He also faces a $250,000 fine on each count.


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