EO file photo
A former Walla Walla businessman who operated a chain of car dealerships in Eastern Washington, Idaho and Oregon is facing a federal criminal charge.
Mark Gilbert was indicted by a grand jury in November on one count of bank fraud related to the purchase of a home in Hawaii in 2014. His trial is set for April 2 in U.S. District Court in Yakima.
According to court documents, Gilbert has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which alleges he made false statements to a federally insured credit union to obtain a $745,000 mortgage loan. The maximum penalty for the crime is up to 30 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $1 million.
In an indictment filed by acting U.S. Attorney Joseph Harrington, Gilbert is alleged to have falsely claimed he was buying the Hawaii home for his parents, and fabricated financial statements to convince the credit union to fund the mortgage.
Gilbert also allegedly provided the down payment for the house and concealed that fact to avoid disclosing the Hawaii property as an asset in bankruptcy proceedings filed in June 2014 with U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington.
Gilbert, who according to court documents now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., came to Walla Walla in 2002 from the Portland-Vancouver area. By 2012, he had acquired auto dealerships in Walla Walla, College Place, Milton-Freewater, Pendleton, Moses Lake and Moscow, Idaho.
He entered the Pendleton market in 2007 when he bought out Comrie Chevrolet Buick Pontiac and Comrie Honda and added Round-Up City Dodge Chrysler Jeep and Oregon Power Sports at 2240 S.E. Court Ave.
With those purchases Gilbert owned the only new car dealership in Pendleton.
The dealership was under scrutiny of the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles in 2011 for not properly submitting titles to sold vehicles on multiple occasions, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2013. The business closed soon after.
Among Gilbert’s other dealings was construction of the Honda dealership on property alongside state Route 125 in College Place. This was accompanied by the city constructing Commercial Drive to provide access to the business and a bank.
Gilbert’s enterprises began to unravel at the start of 2013 after the city of College Place filed a lawsuit alleging he had failed to make payments promised in a development agreement for the Commercial Drive project.
Other lawsuits by credit companies operated by Honda, Nissan, Ford and General Motors rapidly followed, alleging Gilbert had violated agreements for repaying loans by converting the funds for other uses instead of repaying debts owed.
These were accompanied by other civil actions from lenders and others also alleging failure to pay debts or repay loans.
Another action that came in 2013 was from the state Office of the Attorney General. In a complaint filed in Walla Walla County Superior Court, the AG’s office charged that four of Gilbert’s auto dealerships had violated consumer-protection laws by failing to promptly pay off customers’ trade-in vehicles, resulting in some buyers being forced to make payments on both their new vehicle and their trade-in to avoid collection agencies and repossession.
By the end of 2013, all of Gilbert’s auto dealerships in Washington, Oregon and Idaho had been closed. The auto dealerships in Walla Walla and College Place have since reopened under new ownership.
The East Oregonian contributed to this story.