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Ex-Bennett Cars exec indicted

A federal grand jury has indicted the former chief financial officer of one of the defunct Bennett Cars dealerships on 12 counts of bank fraud.

If convicted, Donald Bender, 52 and former CFO of Bennett's used car dealership in Pinellas Park, faces up to a year in jail and a $1-million fine for each count.

Bender is accused of participating in a scheme to get two banks to front loans for cars that Bennett never sold. Altogether, the banks fronted the Bennett dealership $250,000 for the bogus car sales. The banks were Cleveland-based Key Bank USA and Charter One Bank.

The five Bennett used car lots that once promised in its ads that "Everybody Rides" closed last year after seeking protection from creditors in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

According to the indictment, Bender was arranging bogus car loans from the two banks at about the same time. The 12 car loans in question ranged from $15,461 to $28,936.

At its peak, Bennett operated used car lots in Clearwater, Pinellas Park, Ocala and Fort Myers and a Kia dealership in St. Petersburg.

The Bennett Chapter 11 filing was converted to a liquidation proceeding in January. Crown Pontiac acquired the Kia dealership. Bennett creditors say they are owed $15.3-million, $14.2-million of which are secured debts.