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Registry manager charged in scheme

Inspection licenses, machines allegedly sold for profit

A project manager at the Registry of Motor Vehicles was arrested Monday on charges of scheming with a service station owner to extort money from other service station owners who had been seeking licenses to conduct car safety inspections.

Mark C. LaFrance, 51, of Braintree, the project manager, and Simon Abou Raad, 50, of Tyngsborough, who owned stations in Tewksbury and Tyngsborough, were each charged with conspiracy under the federal Hobbs Act.

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LaFrance was released on $100,000 unsecured bond after an initial appearance in federal court in Boston, and he said he will obtain his own lawyer. Prosecutors are seeking to hold Abou Raad without bail, calling him a risk of flight: He has close ties to people in Lebanon, traveled there recently, and may own property there, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also said they fear that Abou Raad may try to intimidate witnesses in the case, many of whom he knows through their work in the ­Lebanese community.

A hearing is scheduled Tuesday afternoon in federal court.

According to documents filed in federal court, LaFrance was project manager for the Registry’s Vehicle Safety and Compliance Services unit and oversaw the vehicle inspection program in Massachusetts.

LaFrance allegedly worked with Abou Raad in a scheme to profit from the sale of Registry safety inspection machines and licenses.

According to authorities, ­licenses for conducting vehicle inspections normally cost about $2,800 and are issued based on geographic locations and on a first-come, first-served basis. However, a number of people were able to receive licenses imme­diately after paying $75,000 to Abou Raad, who distributed the proceeds to LaFrance and others, prosecutors said.

In the scheme, authorities said Abou Raad would use confidential information from Registry officials to determine anyone who would be willing to sell a license, either because they had been cited too many times or were not making enough money. Abou Raad would pay about $10,000 for the license and equipment. He would in turn sell the equipment and ­license to someone for about $75,000, and he would have LaFrance file the paperwork to bypass people on a waiting list, according to court records.

The court records indicate that other Registry officials took part in the scheme or were aware of it, but they were not arrested or identified Monday.

According to court records, Abou Raad could be heard in phone conversations saying, “Let’s go make some money.”

LaFrance and Abou Raad face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the Hobbs Act conspiracy charge. Abou Raad is also charged with engaging in money laundering and faces up to 10 years in prison on that charge.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@­globe.com. Follow him on ­Twitter @MiltonValencia.
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