Fenton Flowers knew he could make some extra cash by helping people with unpaid fines spring their cars from Chicago’s auto pound.
But he also knew how it could all end. More than three years ago, his girlfriend’s son went to federal prison for doing the same thing.
Now a judge has sentenced Flowers to five months in prison for the clever scheme that ran through the bankruptcy court. His girlfriend is also due to be sentenced in January for participating in the scam.
However, because Flowers has already spent roughly four months in custody, he won’t be behind bars much longer. U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer told him he’d likely be out before the end of the holiday season — but not before Thanksgiving.
“Being in prison has been an experience, ma’am,” Flowers told the judge Tuesday. “I don’t want to do that again.”
The judge called Flowers’ scam one of the more “cynical” frauds she had seen — one that took advantage of a government process. Flowers’ lawyer said in court records he has for years struggled with drugs, mental illness and financial disappointment. He also spent three years in the armed forces.
The 49-year-old pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud last month. In exchange for cash, he helped people whose vehicles had been impounded by the city get them back through false bankruptcy petitions. His partner in the scheme was his girlfriend, Delores “Lady D” Rankins, who also pleaded guilty in October.
The couple took advantage of an automatic stay on collections to secure the release of people’s vehicles. Only the Chicago Department of Revenue and auto pound would be listed as creditors in the bankruptcy filings.
The feds said they tied 39 petitions to Flowers and Rankins. Not only did many of them feature similar language, but clerk’s office employees began to notice so many people filing petitions with “helpers” that the clerks began copying driver’s licenses.
One clerk remembered Flowers bringing more than 100 petitioners into the office.
Flowers admitted to the feds he taught the scheme to another man, Shaun Grandison, who was charged with fraud last summer, court records show.
The feds also say Flowers and Rankins continued the scam after Rankins’ son, Daniel “Little D” Rankins, was caught up in an undercover law enforcement sting in January 2013.
U.S. District Judge Robert Dow gave Daniel Rankins an 18-month prison sentence in July 2015, calling the hustle a “clever” scheme that involved a “pretty high intelligence level.”
The feds were able to tie twice as many bankruptcy petitions to Daniel Rankins.