Victims paint bad picture of scammers

Vincent Cardinalli

Mitzi Magos will never forget having to call her husband to tell
him they didn’t have enough money for groceries.
She’ll also never forget facing the man who put her in that
position.
Magos started crying when she recounted having to pay $2,500 in
fraudulent charges to Vincent Cardinalli, of Hollister, who was
sentenced to 14 years in prison Friday for heading up a tow-and-sue
scam that swindled thousands of dollars from innocent motorists for
almost a decade in Santa Clara and San Benito counties.
Mitzi Magos will never forget having to call her husband to tell him they didn’t have enough money for groceries.

She’ll also never forget facing the man who put her in that position.

Magos started crying when she recounted having to pay $2,500 in fraudulent charges to Vincent Cardinalli, of Hollister, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison Friday for heading up a tow-and-sue scam that swindled thousands of dollars from innocent motorists for almost a decade in Santa Clara and San Benito counties.

Magos’ husband, Ruben, was angry as he stared at an unshaven, wheelchair-bound Cardinalli, 67.

Ruben said wasn’t sure if he would ever get over being scammed.

“Every time I think about the name Vincent Cardinalli, I get angry,” he said.

He wished Cardinalli a fun time in prison.

“Enjoy the food,” Ruben said. “I hope you have a good bunkie.”

Cardinalli’s son, Paul Greer, 33, was given eight years in prison for his role. Cardinalli’s daughter, Rosemary Ball, 35, was sentenced to six months in prison, while Cardinalli’s son-in-law, Michael Ball, 39, was given 150 days.

All will contribute to paying at least $23,000 in restitution to motorists who were falsely sued or intimidated out of thousands of dollars, said Superior Court Judge Gilbert T. Brown, who denied a Gilroy Dispatch request to photograph the sentencing hearing at 9 a.m. Friday at the Hall of Justice in San Jose.

Brown and deputy district attorney Victor Chen said the true number of motorists who were affected might never be known.

A separate restitution hearing for Cardinalli was scheduled March 25 to determine exactly just how much – and to whom – he will have to repay. The hearing will be a continuation of a three-year saga involving hundreds of felony counts, controversy surrounding a small claims court commissioner and a surprise no-contest plea from Cardinalli in July.

Chen said the family’s business targeted unwitting motorists, undocumented residents or those who spoke little English and sued them for towing and storage costs, often on vehicles they never owned or previously sold.

In all, about 15 to 20 people may get their money back as part of the $23,000 restitution announced in court, Chen said. Many victims either have no knowledge of the case or may have left the country after paying Cardinalli and Greer, he added.

“I felt really bad for the people who were victims,” Chen said. “They were the ones who could least afford it.”

On some occasions, Cardinalli and Greer would attempt to sue multiple people over the same vehicle. Some victims simply paid them off to prevent the stress of having to fight in court, Chen said.

Brown likened the family’s activities to that of Bernie Madoff, who defrauded thousands of investors out of billions of dollars.

He added, however, that, “Mr. Greer and Mr. Cardinalli are worse” because many of their victims were already very poor.

“The worst kind of predators are those who prey on the innocent and the vulnerable,” Brown said,

Brown added the legal system was “somewhat at fault” for allowing the family to file so many frivolous lawsuits.

Superior Court Commissioner Gregory Saldivar often ruled in favor or Cardinalli and Greer in court, but was not ordered by Brown to testify in the case.

Saldivar’s tendency to rule in favor of Cardinalli and Greer, as well as Cardinalli’s and Greer’s preference to have their small claims cases heard by Saldivar, attracted the attention of Greg Adler – an attorney for auto action company Copart, which was on the receiving end of the family’s scheme, Adler said in 2009.

Adler became a champion against the family’s unlawful business practices for several victims.

On Friday, he chastised Cardinalli and Greer.

“What you guys did to people was mean and it was evil,” Adler said.

Adler also addressed Greer specifically, saying, “The next several years of your life are going to be very unpleasant.”

The Dispatch first reported on the family’s unorthodox business dealings in April 2006. Cardinalli and Greer were arrested in June 2007. On Friday, Chen said an investigation was taking place to determine if Cardinalli had continued to pursue lawsuits while in jail.

John C. Castro, Jr., a retired firefighter from San Jose, said he was able to avoid being sued by Cardinalli after reaching out to Adler for help.

Speaking loudly in the courtroom microphone, Castro told Brown the family was driven by one thing.

“Greed,” Castro repeated.

Cardinalli’s attorney, Tammy Miller-Holmgren, said she was pleased with Brown’s ruling, calling it “a fair result.”

Given his charges, Cardinalli faced a maximum prison sentence of 186 years, prosecutors said. But even if convicted on all counts, “that’s just a number on a piece of paper and he would not have served that,” Chen explained in July when Cardinalli pleaded no contest to 99 felonies and one misdemeanor.

The charges included embezzlement, perjury and forgery among other charges.

The sentencing hearing also included a celebrity cameo.

Comedy actor Rob Schneider appeared the end of the hearing to support longtime friend Rick Glosser, a claims manger for State Farm Insurance.

State Farm was involved in four lawsuits against Greer. State Farm won all four, according to Adler.

“The system doesn’t always work, but today it worked,” Schneider said.

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