Four St. Louis men have been charged in a years-long conspiracy to defraud Southern Illinois car owners who sold their vehicles online, illicitly gaining over $1 million.
Alen Saric, 35, Valentino Colic, 32, Emad Hasanbegovic, 33, and Almir Palic, 24, were charged with multiple felonies including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. All have been released on bond.
Prosecutors say the four men defrauded vehicle sellers from Madison County, as well as Jasper, Bond and Fayette counties with fake cashier’s checks from 2018 until August 2023. The four would make contact with their victims on Facebook and Craigslist.
The indictment is just Saric’s most recent criminal case. In August he was arrested by Missouri State Police and charged with tampering with a motor vehicle, fraud and larceny. Saric and Colic are also charged with interstate transportation of stolen goods for allegedly transferring the vehicles from Illinois to Missouri.
Conspiracy to commit wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, and interstate transportation of stolen goods is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
In order to keep their names out of the chain of title, prosecutors say, Saric and his co-defendants “used the names of prior victims to buy and sell the vehicles and to complete documents such as titles and bills of sale. When posing as the victims, they often used victims’ photo IDs.”
The four would also sometimes tell victims that they could verify the authenticity of the fraudulent cashier’s checks by calling what they thought was Commerce Bank. They would get a recording stating “Thank you for calling Commerce Bank,” but the phone number they were given was not for Commerce Bank, but rather was connected to the conspirators.
Once they had possession of a vehicle, they would quickly resell it to another individual for cash before the original victim attempted to cash the check and realized it was worthless.
FBI Springfield Field Office Special Agent in Charge David Nanz said the conspiracy “is yet another example of criminals using fake checks to defraud victims.” He cautioned the public to never assume any type of check from anyone they don’t know is genuine.
“Such caution should be exercised whether the check appears to be cashier’s, official, or certified,” Nana said. “Criminals are skilled at creating fake checks that look real, so protect yourself by either going to the bank that issued the check to confirm its authenticity or waiting until the check clears your bank before turning over property or otherwise transferring funds.”
U.S. Attorney Rachelle Aud Crowe acknowledged that many people use the internet to buy and sell items. “Unfortunately, scammers also use the internet as a tool to defraud and steal.” she said.
Numerous law enforcement agencies participated in the investigation, leading to the arrests and indictment, including the FBI, the Metro East Auto Theft Task Force, Illinois State Police, Illinois Secretary of State Police, Jefferson County, MO Sheriff’s Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and several local police departments.