Bel Air man pleads guilty in auto repair scam case

He bought, sold, repaired damaged vehicles

May 19, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

A Bel Air body shop owner who told authorities that he engineered car repair scams for 20 years admitted in federal court in Baltimore yesterday that he took in nearly $300,000 in one two-year stretch.

Michael Charles Horner, 46, also pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and making a false statement in a passport application.

As part of a joint investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Marshal Service, federal investigators said they learned that Horner - who ran a body shop called Contemporary Automotive - bought, sold and repaired severely damaged vehicles.

Beginning in January 2002, court papers said, Horner would take the vehicle identification number off an undamaged vehicle and place it on a damaged vehicle. Horner would then have an accomplice file an insurance claim on the damaged vehicle.

After receiving settlements, Horner returned the identification numbers to the original, undamaged vehicles and then re- titled and sold them, according to court papers. Between 2002 and 2004, Horner and others filed at least eight fraudulent claims and obtained at least $288,158, authorities said.

Other charges against Horner included filing for a false passport in South Carolina. The name he used was "Larry Keith Reprogel." The true Larry Keith Reprogel is in a coma and receiving treatment at the Johns Hopkins geriatric unit in Baltimore, according to court papers.

On June 1, 2005, U.S. marshals arrested Horner in his hotel room in Malvern, Pa. They found fake documents, including someone else's identification with Horner's photo attached. Inside his Toyota Sequoia, according to court papers, law enforcement officers also spotted two crates containing file folders, including one marked "scams."

U.S. postal inspectors interviewed Horner, who told them he had been committing bank and insurance fraud for the past 20 years, according to authorities.

Horner faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson has scheduled sentencing for Aug. 10. Horner remains in federal custody.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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