Two former salesmen at a Stellantis dealership in suburban Detroit were indicted last month on charges of allegedly defrauding the automaker by giving employee discounts on vehicles to customers who weren’t eligible.
Apollon Nimo and Farrah Bottris Bahoo, who worked at Parkway Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, each pleaded not guilty on June 3 in Detroit to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud stemming from a scheme to use discount codes meant for family members of Stellantis employees in sales and leases to nonqualified buyers.
An attorney for Nimo on Tuesday promised to fight the charges and said his client did nothing wrong. He claims Stellantis and its predecessor, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, were well aware of what the salesmen were doing.
The case underscores how employee discounts can be manipulated, potentially fraudulently, to boost sales — particularly in automotive hubs such as Michigan.
Nimo closed more deals using employee discounts than any other Stellantis salesperson in Michigan, and at times was No. 1 nationwide, federal prosecutors said in a complaint filed last year. The 2021 complaint said he defrauded the automaker out of $8.7 million.
Stellantis was created last year by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and France’s PSA.
Bahoo was on Nimo’s sales team and began working with him around April 2016.
The May 26 indictment says Nimo and Bahoo conspired with each other and “others known and unknown to the grand jury” to sell the codes to customers and apply them to deals.
The alleged activities took place from January 2014 to April 2021. Authorities started looking into Nimo after Stellantis employees began complaining that their personal discount codes had been used without their consent, often at Parkway. In 2019, FCA gave investigators a list of 268 employee numbers that were reported as having been used without authorization. All of them were linked to sales made by Nimo from Feb. 21, 2016, to June 18, 2018.
Prosecutors say Nimo sold 250 vehicles in a single month in 2020 — more than most FCA dealerships’ entire sales teams, a manager at a nearby competitor told investigators — and was continuing to falsify employee discounts until the time of his arrest last year.
Nimo’s attorney, Patrick Hurford, said in a statement that his client didn’t steal employee discount numbers from the automaker’s employees and sell them.
“It is well known in the industry that some automaker employees, including Stellantis employees, sell their discount numbers,” Hurford said. “Some of these employees even count on this source of income. FCA knew this. Stellantis knows it. No one has stopped it because it increases sales.”
Hurford said Nimo sold cars with legitimate discount codes generated by employees during a time when “FCA was paying many dealerships to lie about sales numbers. It is beyond difficult to understand how Mr. Nimo could have the caused losses alleged by the government.”
FCA settled a federal antitrust lawsuit in 2019 claiming that the company pushed dealers to submit fraudulent sales numbers. It paid a $40 million fine and also had to restate five years of U.S. sales results.
Stellantis factory worker Lori Naylor told Automotive News last year that her employee discount was improperly used at Parkway, but she didn’t know which salesman did it.
“It feels like you’re violated, like someone got into your personal stuff,” Naylor said at the time. “It feels very corrupt.”