From staff reports
BIRMINGHAM – A federal jury today convicted the controller at Birmingham’s Serra Nissan dealership for conspiring to defraud Nissan North America through the manufacturer’s sales incentive program, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, FBI Special Agent in Charge Roger C. Stanton, and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Veronica Hyman-Pillot.
Jurors found Kimberly H. Branch, 34, of Trussville, guilty of conspiracy following three days of testimony before U.S. District Judge Madeline H. Haikala. No sentencing date has been set, and Branch remains free on bond.
Branch was also charged with 15 counts of wire fraud, but the jury found her not guilty on all 15 counts.
“Whether it is consumers or corporate victims, my office takes fraud very seriously and will continue to prosecute those who deceive and cheat others,” Vance said.
According to court testimony, Branch and others at Serra Nissan falsified sales reports submitted by wire to the manufacturer between March 2013 and April 2013 so Serra Nissan could receive sales incentive payments it did not earn. Branch and other Serra Nissan employees falsified the reports to reflect that the Birmingham dealership sold 15 specific vehicles that, in fact, were sold at Serra Visser Nissan in Cullman. The process is sometimes called “pooling sales” and occurs when a dealer who owns or is associated with more than one dealership combines or attributes sales from one dealership to another in order to meet sales incentives levels that each dealership would not reach on its own.
Branch assisted another Serra Nissan employee in creating false files, or “jackets,” on each sales transaction to hide the fraud, in the event Nissan North America audited the dealership, according to testimony. The 15 vehicle sales fraudulently reported at Serra Nissan caused Nissan North America to pay the dealership $82,750 in unearned incentives.
Branch’s conviction follows a guilty plea in July from Randy D. Visser, general manager of Serra Nissan, to conspiracy to defraud Nissan North America through its dealership incentive programs. Visser, 45, of Liberty Park, admitted he directed officers at the Birmingham dealership to falsify sales reports in order to pool sales from the Cullman dealership. Visser is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 17.
Eight other Serra Nissan managers or salesmen pleaded guilty early this year in a separate conspiracy to boost loan approvals and car sales by creating and submitting falsified loan documents to lenders.
FBI and IRS-CID investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda S. Wick and Jennifer S. Murnahan are prosecuting.