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Suspect in fraudulent luxury car sales nabbed

By Marlon Ramos, Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:30:00 08/14/2010

Filed Under: Crime

NOT this time.

A man who reportedly preyed on owners of mortgaged luxury cars, among them Sen. Vicente ?Tito? Sotto III, has finally been arrested, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) announced Friday.

Rico Alpapara, 58, was about to pull a fast one on a would-be victim when he was caught by NBI agents inside the Podium mall in Ortigas Center, Pasig City, around 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, NBI spokesperson Cecilio Zamora Jr. said.

?We were tipped off that the suspect was in the area to trade an allegedly stolen vehicle with an expensive Honda sedan,? Zamora said in a news briefing at the NBI headquarters in Manila.

NBI agent Anna Labao said Alpapara had introduced himself as a Bicol congressman and lawyer to gain the trust of his unsuspecting victims.

Law enforcers have been after the suspect since 1981 after he was charged with several cases of fraud.

String of warrants

?What?s amazing is that he was able to elude arrest despite a string of warrants for his arrest,? Labao added.

?Our initial investigation showed that the suspect had defrauded several people of millions of pesos for the past several years,? Zamora said.

?Senator Sotto was very, very happy with the arrest. He said he was vindicated because the suspect had filed a libel case against him,? said Mark Rosales, Sotto?s chief of staff.

Zamora said Alpapara bought Sotto?s 2004 model BMW X5 after a sales executive of BMW Autohaus had introduced him to the senator sometime in April 2007.

After giving an initial payment of P120,426, Alpapara issued postdated checks to Sotto amounting to P2.5 million and agreed to settle the remaining balance of the mortgaged car to Security Bank.

The checks, however, bounced when Sotto tried to deposit them to his account.

Zamora said Sotto subsequently sued Alpapara, who claimed to be a lawyer in the Quezon City prosecutor?s office last year.

Upon learning of Alpapara?s arrest, representatives of BMW Autohaus, the authorized agent of the German car manufacturer in the country, went to the NBI office.

Monica Villanueva, the car trading firm?s legal counsel, said the suspect also issued bouncing checks to the company amounting to P480,000.

?He (Alpapara) brought the senator?s car to BMW Autohaus for repairs. After he got the car, he just disappeared,? Villanueva said.

Another alleged victim, Nenita Depante, said she gave $25,000 (about P1.3 million) to Alpapara last year to help her secure a $100-million loan from the HSBC Bank in Hong Kong.

?I trusted him because he said he was a congressman from Bicol. But after I gave him the money, he suddenly stopped answering my calls and e-mails,? Depante told reporters.

The NBI said a group of oil importers had reportedly sued Alpapara for failure to pay them some P35 million worth of imported fuel.

Zamora said the suspect will be detained at the NBI jail as they await for his other victims to surface.

Libel, perjury raps

Meanwhile, libel and perjury raps filed by Alpapara against Sotto have been dismissed by the Quezon City Prosecutor?s Office.

Alpapara was the subject of an estafa complaint filed earlier by Sotto for the former?s alleged failure to fully pay for the BMW he bought from Sotto.

Assistant City Prosecutor Ferdinand Baylon, likewise, dismissed the estafa raps against Alpapara in the same joint resolution.

Sotto had filed the complaint in November 2009 after allegedly selling his BMW to Alpapara while the vehicle was covered by a promissory note in favor of Security Bank Corp.

The deal included a promise on Alpapara?s part to shoulder the remaining amortization of the car and the promissory note as well. Sotto alleged that Alpapara?s checks dated Aug. 27 and Sept. 27, 2008, bounced.

The resolution noted that Alpapara failed to appear during the scheduled hearings for the preliminary investigation, but Baylon evaluated the complaints filed by both parties just the same.

In junking the case against Alpapara, Baylon said the sale of Sotto?s BMW was coursed through an agent named Ellery de Guzman, and that Alpapara did not personally introduce himself as a lawyer.

?It was on Sotto?s reliance on De Guzman?s representations that respondent is a lawyer and a frequent BMW customer that appear to have convinced Sotto in proceeding with the sale of his BMW to Alpapara,? the resolution read.

Baylon explained that since the alleged misrepresentation was not personally made by Alpapara, ?the complaint is bound to fail as it is based on plain hearsay.?

?While it is not disputed that complainant at the very least suffered damages in the form of unpaid amortizations, the proper recourse available to him is a civil action for collection of sum of money and damages,? the assistant city prosecutor added.

Baylon also noted that Sotto did not make any deliberate or willful assertions of falsehood in his estafa complaint and that the senator even presented a supplemental affidavit of his witnesses and documents.

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