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Former Texas Dealership Employees Arraigned on Theft Charges

July 2, 2008

MISSION, Texas – Three former employees accused of embezzling almost $400,000 from the region's largest chain of car dealerships turned themselves in to authorities on June 18, reported the Valley Morning Star newspaper.

But attorneys representing the three men insisted they haven’t done anything wrong. "I’m totally confident that they'll be found innocent of any crime," said Joe Vasquez, a lawyer representing Fabian Leal, 45, the former general sales manager at Bert Ogden Chevrolet in Mission.

Leal and Rene Deleon, 45, the former aftermarket manager, were arraigned June 18 on charges of theft and engaging in organized criminal activity. Contractor Esequiel Rodriguez, 45, also faced those charges.

The men are accused of filing hundreds of vouchers from Rodriguez's aftermarket alterations business for work that was never done, according to search warrants filed in the case. That company, Mission-based Ultimate Truckz, claimed it had installed 582 dash kits on vehicles later sold at the dealership, authorities said.

But investigators said they believe the three men and a fourth man - Javier Lopez, the 45-year-old new-car manager - pocketed the payments and tried to hide the unaltered cars from their bosses.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Lopez but he had not turned himself in because he was out of town, his attorney Keno Vasquez said.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said the theft, which took place over a period of at least three years, was discovered in May by Bert Ogden’s internal auditors who turned their findings over to authorities.

When confronted with the allegations, Rodriguez admitted to participating in the scheme and splitting the money with the dealership employees, according to a criminal complaint filed in their case. Deleon resigned immediately and Leal and Lopez were later fired, the document states.

Still, Bert Ogden owner and chief executive officer Robert Vacker said the alleged financial improprieties "in no way affected customers who have purchased from the store."

If convicted, Lopez and the other three men could each face up to life in prison and $10,000 in fines.

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