money

Bogus invoices, sham repair expenses and a phony investment scheme were all part of an Edgefield man’s plot to bilk people out of $2.6 million, federal prosecutors announced this week in court filings.

Kelly Wesley Sanders bought an ownership stake in Saluda Motor Sales Inc. in 2017 and took over day-to-day operations, assuring the owner who had stepped aside, Benjamin Bradshaw, that business was good.

While running the dealership, he sent the Santander Bank invoices for more than 40 vehicles totaling about $1.9 million that he never bought, according to a charging document. The bank gave him the funds under a long-term financing agreement that still listed Bradshaw as the guarantor.

Sanders also ran up more than $200,000 on a credit card associated with the business for which Bradshaw was still responsible, using the card “for personal expenses and for sham repair bills,” the filing said.

When Santander Bank began demanding payments, Sanders convinced a longtime friend who grew up with him in Edgefield and the friend’s father-in-law to invest more than a half-million dollars into buying another car dealership, the document said, but instead used that money to pay the bank.

That’s when things began to unravel.

In a lawsuit filed by the pair of investors, they said they noticed in October 2018 that Sanders had transferred about $240,000 to Santander, and when questioned, Sanders claimed an employee simply moved money from the wrong account.

In a separate lawsuit, Santander said it requested an audit of Saluda Motor’s finances that same month, which “revealed certain transfer of funds from Saluda (Motors) to Defendants Sanders, Sanders Paint, Sanders Auto and Sanders Holdings.” In one filing associated with that case, attorneys noted “the Court found that there appeared to be in excess of Two Million and 00/100s ($2,000,000.00) dollars in inventory for which no one can account.”

Sanders signed a plea agreement earlier this month, which was posted to PACER — an online clearinghouse for federal court documents — on Monday. Under that agreement, he will plead guilty to one fraud count and make restitution payments of $1,631,187 to Santander Bank, $364,261 to Bradshaw and $532,600 to his two investors, while prosecutors will ask for a lesser sentence. The charge carried a prison term of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Under the agreement, Sanders will continue to work with prosecutors. No date has been set for Sanders to enter his plea.

Sanders’ attorney, Frank Eppes, declined to comment on the case as it was still pending in court.

In addition to restitution, the lawsuit from investors resulted in a $481,903.06 judgment against Sanders. Separately, Full Circle Marketing was awarded more than $60,000 in judgments against Sanders and related businesses, and Savannah Construction Services received a $78,994.37 judgment against Sanders and another person.

Santander was awarded a nearly $5 million judgment against Saluda Motor, which has since closed. The company was opened more than 75 years ago by Bradshaw’s grandfather, and his father owned it before passing it on to him.

Contact Managing Editor Matthew Hensley at 864-943-2529 or on Twitter @IJMattHensley.

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