·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


Two Men Sentenced to a Combined 11 Years in Federal Prison for $1 Million “Free Bankruptcy” Car Lien-Stripping Scheme

— February 12, 2024

Through this purported “free bankruptcy program,” Fenner promised to pay the debtors’ bankruptcy attorneys’ fees if they turned over their vehicles to him.

INDIANAPOLIS – Brian Fenner, 45, of Camby, Indiana, has been sentenced to a total of 77 months in federal prison. Dennis Birkley, 64, of Wisconsin, has been sentenced to five years in federal prison.

In January 2023, a federal jury found both men guilty on one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, seven counts of wire fraud, six counts of mail fraud, and three counts of money laundering.

According to court documents and evidence introduced at trial, between 2013 and 2016, Fenner promoted the “Sperro free bankruptcy program” to individuals who were planning to file for bankruptcy. Through this purported “free bankruptcy program,” Fenner promised to pay the debtors’ bankruptcy attorneys’ fees if they turned over their vehicles to him, instead of surrendering them to the banks that financed the purchase of the vehicles. Numerous people from across the country participated in the program and surrendered their vehicles to Fenner, including from as far away as California and Arizona. Fenner arranged for the debtors’ cars to be towed to his lots in Indianapolis for outlandish fees, which formed the basis of a bogus mechanic’s lien on the vehicle.

Fenner then pretended to “sell” the cars to Birkley at “auctions” to cover the exorbitant mechanic’s lien.  In reality, no auctions occurred, no money changed hands, and there was no sale by Fenner to Birkley. Instead, the sham auctions were part of a series of lies and fraudulent documents submitted to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, so that Birkley could get clean titles to the vehicles from the BMV.

Once Birkley had clean title to the vehicles, he sold the vehicles for their true value – often earning thousands of dollars in profit – which Birkley split with Fenner. Over the course of the conspiracy, Birkley and Fenner illegally obtained over $1 million.

Michigan Funds Opioid Crisis with Grant Money to Reduce Deaths
Photo by Colin Watts on Unsplash

Fenner was sentenced to 70 months of imprisonment on June 8, 2023, and was instructed to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons in Terre Haute by July 18, 2023. Fenner did not report to prison, and was re-arrested in Morgan County, Indiana, on August 25, 2023. Fenner was sentenced to an additional seven months in prison after pleading guilty to failing to surrender. This sentence will be served consecutively to Fenner’s 70-month sentence for the fraud conviction, for a total prison sentence of 77 months.

“For years, these greedy men preyed on people in financial crisis by offering a purported financial lifeline too good to be true—and was in fact just a series of lies,” said Zachary A. Myers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana “Unraveling complex schemes and holding fraudsters accountable is a top priority for our office. I commend the talented and dedicated team, including our partners at the FBI, Indiana State Police, and our federal prosecutors, for their unrelenting determination to see that these crooks pay for their crimes.”

“These two men shamelessly exploited the financial difficulties of their victims to enrich themselves, disguising their scheme as a potential lifeline to people who were in extreme financial difficulty,” said FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Herbert J. Stapleton. “The FBI will continue to work with our partners to aggressively identify and investigate those who engage in in such fraudulent behavior and ensure they are held accountable.”

“The prosecution, conviction, and sentences imposed on Mr. Fenner and Mr. Birkley, who took advantage of consumers in financial distress who signed up for the bogus ‘Sperro free bankruptcy program’ demonstrates that those who abuse the bankruptcy system for their own personal gain will be brought to justice,” said Nancy J. Gargula, United States Trustee for Indiana and Central and Southern Illinois (Region 10). “We are grateful to US Attorney Myers for his commitment in helping to protect and preserve the integrity of the bankruptcy system, not just here in the Southern District of Indiana but across the country, and to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Olivier and Shepard.”

“The Indiana State Police and its law enforcement partners work towards a common goal each and every day, with every criminal investigation…to identify those who violate our various criminal laws and to hold them responsible for those unlawful actions,” said Captain Ron Galaviz.

This case was investigated by the FBI and the Indiana State Police, with assistance from the Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program, in collaboration with the Southern Indiana Bankruptcy Fraud Working Group coordinated by the U.S. Trustee for Region 10. The sentences were imposed by U.S. District Court Judges Richard L. Young and James R. Sweeney II. Both men were ordered to pay $49,045.84 each in restitution.

U.S. Attorney Myers thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kate Olivier and Bradley P. Shepard, who prosecuted this case.

Join the conversation!