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1/30/2004
SPECIAL REPORT: Broker pleads guilty to defrauding OOIDA members

Byron Hunt, 54, a Haines City, FL, truck broker, was ordered Jan. 27 to pay back $55,000 he admitted bilking from 30 trucking companies, including several members of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Hunt admitted defrauding largely out-of-state owner-operators and shippers through his defunct Imperial Transportation Group shipping brokerage. Investigators think Hunt netted at least $100,000 during the period.

Hunt’s arrest Feb. 25, 2003, came after nearly three years of documentation and effort by OOIDA’s Business Services unit to get Imperial to pay owner-operators for trips Imperial arranged.

Specifically, OOIDA hired a private investigator to probe numerous complaints from members against Hunt. The investigator, working with Florida officials, ultimately put all the pieces of Hunt's scam together.

According to the original complaint, "While in this position, the defendant entered into a systematic ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud small independent trucking companies by refusing to pay for the services rendered.

"The total loss represented in this complaint is in excess of $50,000 … About 30 trucking companies … have provided freight transportation to Imperial Group and not been paid for their services."

Hunt told investigators the nation’s slow economy was the primary reason for Imperial’s failure to pay numerous carriers and owner-operators the past two years.

State attorney's office investigators say Hunt between 1999 and 2001 either never paid trucking companies or shippers or sent worthless checks. A trucking company that purchased his brokered accounts and advanced cash for fuel, tolls and associated costs received false shipping invoices in return.

OOIDA members, meanwhile, said Hunt employed an annoying array of delay tactics that amounted to nothing more than the usual “the check is in the mail” dodge.

Plea agreement accepted

Under a plea agreement, Hunt will receive 15 years probation with a 6-month cap on jail time.

He also was ordered to immediately pay restitution with $5,000, which has been paid, and another $5,000 due March 18. The remaining amount will be paid within the probation time, through the court.

In addition, Hunt is banned under his probation from having fiduciary involvement in any state corporation. Hunt has previous bad check arrests in Polk County, FL, and grand theft and burglary arrests in Brevard County, FL.

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dick_larsen@landlinemag.com.

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