Car repair scheme nets 4 years

September 01, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun reporter

A Bel Air body shop owner was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in federal prison yesterday after pleading guilty in May to a car repair scheme that netted him nearly $300,000 during a two-year stretch.

Michael Charles Horner, 46, said in court that his conspiring with others to make fraudulent claims against insurance companies stemmed from his business being blacklisted. Horner said insurance companies would not do business with him because he would not use lesser, cheaper parts to repair vehicles.

"That's why I stole from the insurance companies, because of what they did to me and my customers," Horner said in court.

At the one-hour hearing, which included Horner's mother and two children, Horner was unrepentant toward the insurance companies but did apologize to the customers.

"The $200,000 I took from [the insurance companies] doesn't compare to what they took from me," Horner said.

Beginning in 2002, Horner took the vehicle identification numbers off undamaged vehicles and placed them on damaged vehicles. Horner would then have a co-conspirator file an insurance claim on the damaged vehicles.

Horner and his accomplice would receive the settlement, return the identification numbers to the original vehicles, then re-title and sell the cars. Between 2002 and 2004, Horner and his associates filed at least eight fraudulent claims and obtained at least $288,158.

Horner also was charged with felony possession of a firearm in Pennsylvania and filing for a false passport in South Carolina. He was arrested with a fake passport in North Carolina, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kwame J. Manley said in court.

Horner's family painted him as a patriarch who was the disciplinarian when his children misbehaved. U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson heard from Horner's grown son, Christopher, who said he has gone into the same line of work. Horner's mother and daughter also spoke on his behalf. "He's a great father. He taught me the business of body work," Christopher Horner said.

Horner's mother, Abigail, speaking as she left the courthouse, agreed with the sentence.

"I think it was fair," she said. "Of course, I love my son. He's my firstborn."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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