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ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- The owners of a St. George car lot have been accused of running a money-laundering operating at the dealership and authorities seized a number of cars -- including some belonging to customers.
Joseph Paul Evans, 27, and Christopher Madsen, 26, were arrested Wednesday at their St. George Auto and RV Center sales lot and appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
Federal authorities allege that the men were using the auto business to disguise the source of their drug revenues.
Evans was charged with five counts of distribution of a controlled substance and one count of money laundering. Madsen was charged with two counts of distribution of a controlled substance and one count of money laundering.
Automobiles from their car lot have been impounded, as well as four personal automobiles and two bank accounts, and their license to sell vehicles has been suspended.
The charges came the day after federal, state and local law enforcement agencies raided the dealership.
Law enforcement agencies served a series of search warrants Wednesday on other St. George businesses, which police would not name.
"The warrants were a result of almost a year of joint investigation into an alleged drug-money laundering operation taking place at some local businesses in St. George," Lt. Russell Riggs, commander of the Washington County Drugs and Gangs Task Force, said.
Evans and Madsen are being held without bail pending a detention hearing Monday before U.S. District Judge Samuel Alba.
The money laundering charge cited two deposits of $9,900 each.
Dozens of customers were made to turn over their cars Wednesday.
Jared Mosher, who purchased a pickup directly from the dealership about six weeks ago said he was driving Wednesday when a federal marshal pulled along side him and told him to drive to St. George Auto Center.
Mosher said that when he arrived at the dealership, the marshal told him the vehicle was being used in the investigation, and Mosher was asked to hand over the keys to his truck.
Mosher had to call his father for a ride home and was told he would have to wait until Monday to go to the DMV for possible recourse.
Mosher said he saw at least seven other people in the same situation at the car lot.
Jodie Monaco, spokeswoman for the Utah State Tax Commission, said people waiting for the title to a vehicle purchased through the dealership may take a written complaint and copy of the vehicle's bill of sale to the St. George Division of Motor Vehicles office on Monday and fill out a complaint. The DMV will issue temporary registrations.
Monaco did not suggest a recourse for owners of cars that have been seized.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)