Posted with permission from NJ.com
Former Hoboken Council President Christopher Campos, who was convicted earlier this year of bank and wire fraud and conspiracy. (Pamela Suchy | Jersey Journal file photo)

NEW YORK -- Former Hoboken City Council President Christopher Campos, who was convicted of helping orchestrate a complex--and illegal--livery cab financing scheme that drew in his wife, his cousin, and his brother, was sentenced Friday to 30 months in prison.

The scheme involved dozens of buyers who borrowed money to buy new cars they could not afford, for vehicles they claimed were for their own personal use, but were actually leased out to others and driven as cabs on the streets of New York.

More than $7 million in loans were obtained from multiple banks, and most went into default, said prosecutors.

Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said Campos defrauded lenders out of millions of dollars.

Defense attorney Lee Vartan of West Orange said Campos maintains his innocence.

"It's not over," said Vartan. "We plan on appealing."

Campos, 41, an attorney and former municipal prosecutor in West New York, served on the Hoboken council until he lost a hotly contested race in 2007 to Dawn Zimmer, who ultimately became mayor.

According to filings by the Southern District of New York, the plan was conceived in the fall of 2012 when Julio Alvarez, charged as a co-conspirator, came up with the idea to buy a fleet of cars that they would lease directly to livery cab drivers.

The idea was that initial lease payments from the drivers would be used to pay off the loans and insurance payments. After the loans were satisfied, the continuing lease payments from the cab drivers would be divided among the group.

However, Alvarez soon realized he could not come up with the financing to legitimately obtain the number of cars that were needed.

Prosecutors said Alvarez and others involved in the scheme instead decided to recruit "straw buyers" with good credit histories who would pose as legitimate customers, and brought in Campos, who Vartan said had once represented Alvarez in a legal matter.

They had buyers purchase multiple cars at once--all financed by different banks--while claiming they were buying the vehicles for their own personal use, according to the court filings.

"The co-conspirators agreed that Campos would help recruit straw buyers and receive a 'cut from every car that we could purchase under those people's names,'"  the U.S. Attorney's office said in a sentencing memo filed last week. "Campos understood that the straw buyers were expected to purchase multiple cars at a time, in their own names."

According to prosecutors, the loan applications were based on bogus income claims. The straw buyers included his wife and other family members.

Campos' wife, for example, had an annual income of just over $20,000 a year. But prosecutors said she signed paperwork to purchase four cars worth over $100,000--or five times what she was actually earning. His cousin, living on social security disability payments with no other income, obtained loans to purchase nine cars, said prosecutors.

At trial, Campos testified that he had no knowledge of how the cars were financed nor any knowledge that lies were told to the lenders to obtain financing. 

Vartan said Campos was a victim in the case.

But the U.S. Attorney's office said Campos not only participated in defrauding the lenders, but lied to some of them an attempt to conceal the fraud as it all began to unravel.

Campos, who now lives in Palisades Park, was convicted by a jury in Manhattan in June after a week-long trial of bank and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud in connection with the plan.

In seeking a prison term, prosecutors said Campos "exploited the trust and loyalty of people close to him, and often less sophisticated than him, in order to make a quick buck for himself. As a direct result, lenders lost almost half a million dollars and the people recruited by Campos were financially ruined."

The U.S. Attorney's office sought a term in excess of five years, but U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni, presided over that trial, sentenced Campos to 30 months.

Julio Alvarez pleaded guilty and was sentenced last month to three years in prison.

Ted Sherman may be reached at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL. Facebook: @TedSherman.reporter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.