BY HAYLEY FOWLER / thestate.com
A 43-year-old man in North Carolina accused of secretly auctioning off his company’s rental equipment and rerouting payments to himself has pleaded guilty.
Michael Guzman entered a guilty plea on charges of wire fraud and money laundering before a federal judge Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina said in a news release. He faces up to 30 years in prison and agreed to forfeit at least $4 million from the alleged fraud.
“With his plea, Mr. Guzman takes responsibility for a regrettable mistake,” Nick Oberheiden, one of his defense attorneys, told McClatchy News on Friday. “He will comply with the court’s orders and society’s expectations.”
Guzman is from Denver, about 40 minutes north of Charlotte on Lake Norman.
From 2019 to early 2020, prosecutors said he sold close to 400 pieces of equipment without his company’s knowledge through an online auction house, funneled the money through his shell companies and bought a condo, RV, boat and several cars with the proceeds.
Guzman reportedly worked for an equipment rental business based in Fort Mill, South Carolina, identified in court filings as “Company A.”
As a fleet manager, he was reportedly responsible for getting rid of old equipment.
But while he was working for the business, prosecutors said Guzman started two companies called Second Life Equipment and All Seasons Sales and Service. Both were reportedly shell companies.
Guzman pretended to be someone named Eric Dixon representing the shell companies and reached out to a third-party auction house that sells used construction equipment, the government said in court filings. He told them “Company A” had sold him used equipment and he was looking to find buyers through the auction house.
But the equipment Guzman was selling didn’t belong to him or his business — it was owned by the company that employed him, prosecutors said.
“In truth and in fact, Guzman was reselling the assets through his shell company, causing the proceeds of those sales to be sent to an account over which he and another individual exercised control and keeping the proceeds for himself,” the government said.
Guzman is accused of manipulating documents at his company to hide the missing equipment and resulting payouts.
Prosecutors said he ultimately sold 398 assets and defrauded his company out of more than $4 million. He reportedly spent the money on a $170,000 condo in South Carolina; a $90,945 boat; three Chevrolet vehicles between $17,000 and $45,000 each; a $38,000 Cadillac and a $50,000 RV.
The fraud came to light before Guzman’s end of year review in May 2020, according to court documents. But when his managers called Guzman in for a meeting, prosecutors said he went to Florida instead.
While there, he’s accused of going into the company’s stores and impersonating employees to get access to information. The company fired Guzman on May 26, 2020, prosecutors said, and he drained his shell companies’ bank accounts the next day.