West Side auto dealers charged with racketeering

July 22, 2005

BY NATASHA KORECKI Federal Courts Reporter

The politically connected owners of three West Side auto dealerships were hit with a 93-count indictment Thursday, including charges of racketeering, drug trafficking and, for the first time, international money laundering.

Amir Hosseini, 48, of Winnetka, and Hossein Obaei, 52, of Northbrook were together charged with taking part in a 10-year racketeering conspiracy where the two allegedly took drug money for luxury cars and laundered more than $9 million. The indictment accuses Obaei of working with another sales manager to sell 20 vehicles to a drug mover knowing he would use the vehicles to smuggle heroin and cocaine from Mexico to Chicago.

In March, the feds shut down three West Side auto dealerships run by the two indicted men -- American Car Exchange, SHO Auto Credit and Amer Leasing Sales -- and seized nearly 100 luxury vehicles.

The indictment charges that Hosseini illegally sent money to the United Arab Emirates and Iran to hide drug proceeds. The feds previously said that Hosseini sent millions of dollars overseas, including some drug money paid by gang-bangers for luxury cars.

Hosseini and Obaei, both Iranian nationals, were also charged with bribing an Illinois secretary of state worker to fix titles to avoid paying taxes. Former secretary of state manager Brenda Strong was charged separately with taking bribes.

Federal prosecutors say the two used their dealerships as havens for drug dealers and gang-bangers.

The bulk of the charges involve allegations of hiding cash transactions greater than $10,000 by failing to report them to banks, as required by law. The feds allege that the two enabled gang-bangers to unload and hide drug money by not reporting the cash transactions.

The feds say the two went so far as to put fake liens on vehicles so if law enforcement made seizures, Hosseini and Obaei would argue the vehicles really belonged to them. They would then allegedly give the cars back to the owners or have them pick out another, according to the indictment.

Hosseini is the alleged leader in the scheme. He owns numerous properties in Cook County and the suburbs -- including a $1.5 million suburban estate.

At least two city aldermen have accepted thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Hosseini. Both aldermen said they would return the money or donate it to charity.

Hosseini was recently released on a $2.2 million bond tied to various properties. Obaei is being held in federal jail