U.S. says drug cash was good at car lot

The Record, NJ
Nov. 2, 2004

U.S. says drug cash was good at car lot


Zakar Motors looks like most of the used car lots that line Route 46
from South Hackensack to Little Ferry: Small paved lot. Tiny business
office. Dozens of cars.

But there was a difference, federal authorities say: The father-and-son
shop catered to drug dealers with a penchant for luxury cars.

Early Monday, drug agents arrested the owner of the Little Ferry
dealership, Zakar A. Civan, 58, of Fort Lee; his son, Raffi Civan, 37,
of Englewood Cliffs; and their secretary, Eudelys Manzueta, 30, of
Moonachie, on money laundering charges.

U.S. marshals seized close to $1 million in luxury vehicles, including
a $130,000 Ferrari 360 Modena and a stable of Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes
and BMWs.

“They knowingly and willfully violated federal money laundering
statutes,” said Michael Pasterchick Jr., special agent in charge of the
New Jersey office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
“These guys were well-known in the drug community.”

Zakar Motors allowed drug dealers to pay for the luxury cars with cash
by illegally creating financing and other paperwork in the names of
bogus buyers, Pasterchick said. From January 2002 through July 2004,
the dealership sold $3 million in luxury vehicles, with more than $2
million of the money paid in cash, he said.

A DEA database flagged 20 percent of those buyers as having previous
drug arrests.

Civan family members disputed the DEA’s claims.

“All I know is that my brother has always done everything by the book,”
Tony Civan said of Zakar Civan as he waited to talk to federal drug
agents outside the lot’s fenced perimeter.

Agents from the DEA’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force
opened their investigation into the dealership in March 2003, based on
information from a confidential informant, as well as a series of what
they deemed suspicious IRS documents, Pasterchick said.

An undercover investigator negotiated the cash purchase of four
vehicles from the Civans, three of which the agent claimed he would
sell back to them a month later as a way of laundering his money, he
said. The agent then surreptitiously recorded a conversation in
Armenian between the father and son, during which the son told the
father, “[The buyer] wants to launder money,” Pasterchick said.

In August, a drug dealer-turned-informant who was arrested in a
Monmouth County sweep told investigators he purchased a $70,000
Mercedes-Benz from Zakar in May because “the dealership had a
reputation within the drug community as a place that was willing to
sell cars with no questions asked as to the source of the funds,”
according to the criminal complaint filed against the trio.

The Neptune drug dealer told investigators he gave Manzueta, the
secretary, a plastic bag with $9,000 as a down payment for the car and
that it had to be registered in the name of a fake purchaser, the
complaint says. It says he then made $5,000 and $10,000 installment
payments in the next few weeks and provided Zakar Motors with the names
of prospective “buyers” before settling on the appropriate stand-in

Later that month, two undercover agents bought a 2001 BMW 330ci from
Zakar Motors for $30,000, telling the dealership that the buyer’s name
could not appear on any paperwork and that they “had a lot of product
on the street,” the federal complaint alleges.

“We made sure that these people were going to put cars in other names
and we told them that the money was drug proceeds and that we need
concealed [compartments] in the car,” Pasterchick said. “It’s very
unusual in today’s business world to work with bags of cash.”

Besides the cars, DEA agents seized $70,000 from a bank account and
could seek the forfeiture of Civan’s homes in Fort Lee and Forked River
in Ocean County, Pasterchick said. The agents had to let several other
high-priced vehicles remain -among them, a $250,000 Bentley Azure and a
$180,000 Ferrari -because they were on consignment from another car
dealer, he said.

On Monday morning, investigators from the DEA, IRS, state police and
Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office sifted through paperwork in two small
offices on the lot, occasionally removing brown cardboard boxes marked
“DEA evidence.”

Bill Offord, the assistant special agent in charge of the criminal
division of the IRS in New Jersey, said the agency’s goal now would be
the possible prosecution of some of the cash buyers.