Rich Testerman still isn’t exactly sure how he woke up one day with $69,000 worth of debt tied to his name, but he knows it happened because he crossed paths with Chris R. King.
On April 11, King, the former owner of Queen City Motors, faced his punishment for defrauding some 30 people. Testerman said he was speaking on behalf of all of King’s victims when he stood up in court to share what happened to him.
“Identity theft is something that tears at you all the time,” Testerman said after King, 48, was sentenced to four years in prison for his crimes. In U.S. District Court on Tuesday morning, Testerman explained to Chief District Judge Beth Phillips how he had been tormented by his connection to King over the past three-and-a-half years.
Testerman said he had filled out an online pre-approval credit form with the dealership, which was located at 925 S. Glenstone Ave. Testerman never bought the vehicle from Queen City Motors and instead found another vehicle elsewhere. When he started working with that dealership’s loan company, a representative told him there were concerns because he hadn’t been paying off a loan for a Ford Explorer he bought at Queen City.
But Testerman never bought a Ford Explorer from Queen City Motors.
It was the first of an endless knot of threads Testerman said he’s been forced to unravel for nearly four years, and the start of a similar story to others found in a nine-page plea agreement from November 2021. For two years starting in November 2018, investigators say King took information that potential customers in search of car loans provided to his business and used it to apply for at least 30 cash loans of his own, totaling about $783,000. In the process, he drove dozens of other peoples’ credit scores into the ditch.
King pleaded guilty to three counts in total. He will serve 24 months in connection to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud, and he will serve an additional 24 months for one count of aggravated identity theft. He was also ordered to pay $646,597 in restitution to his victims and to forfeit the same amount to the government. He also must serve three years of supervised release.
In handing down her sentence, Phillips went above the recommendations of both King’s attorney and the federal prosecutor.
She said King had exhibited repeated fraudulent behavior over a long period of time, and said his latest crimes proved it was getting worse. Phillips said King has at least five prior convictions for fraudulent activity carried out against institutions. This crime targeted citizens, she said.
“Here’s what makes me mad,” Testerman said outside the federal courthouse. “He gets a sentence that’s about equal to how long I’ve been dealing with this. That’s not fair.”
Man who spoke during sentencing but one example of how victims were entangled in fraud case
Testerman said he confronted King immediately after learning his name and credit were tied to an Explorer from the car lot. When he spoke face-to-face with King, Testerman said the dealer was apologetic and kind, saying that the system must have been hacked on his end, leading to a loan for an SUV Testerman never bought. The unpaid debt on the loan he’d never sought ruined Testerman’s effort to buy a vehicle he’d seen elsewhere. He said King offered to make it right. And that ended up dragging things out.
On Tuesday, Testerman drove to the courthouse in a 2013 Ford F-150, purchased — sort of — from Queen City Motors. After the alleged hacking, Testerman offered to finance the truck and carry the note for Testerman if he paid King $325 a month. Testerman agreed.
“Paid on it for about a year,” he said. “Get a call from Springfield PD from (a police department detective) who said, ‘Hey did you buy a car from Chris King?’”
Testerman told the detective he had.
“He goes, “Oh, I got a doozy for you,’” he said.
The case, which ended up being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, found some 30 people in Testerman’s shoes. He said he heard from many of them via Facebook after sharing his story with KY3 after King’s guilty plea. Along with trading info, Testerman said the victims also have commiserated about being hounded by small-scale credit companies who haven’t yet received the message that they were fraud victims. Testerman said he had to pay higher interest rates in the aftermath of the fraud until the false mark against him was eventually wiped off his record. But Testerman said the fake address and false occupation King filled in on the initial bogus application still emerge in his credit report from time to time.
“What happens is that you find out a lot more about financial processes through tragedy than you ever do by something good happening to you,” Testerman said.
Testerman said he hoped the sentencing would bring some form of closure. For now, he remains tethered to King through the truck he drove to his federal sentencing. In court, he told Phillips that King hasn’t yet released the lien on it. Outside the courtroom, he said he’d been offered over $20,000 for it from dealers who called in the midst of the pandemic, at a time when used vehicles were in high demand. King’s attorney, Stacie R. Bilyeu, told Testerman the lien would be released in the near future.
“She told me that it’ll be like a week, and that’s fine,” Testerman said after the sentencing. “I’m not in that big of a hurry.”
‘Unfortunately, lots of folks are worse off for having known me,’ King says at sentencing
In asking for a sentence of one year and a day or probation, Bilyeu said King was, in her experience, a unique perpetrator of white-collar crime. She said he didn’t make any excuses when he first sought her counsel. Instead, he came into her office and admitted everything, saying, “I did it and I know it was wrong.” She said King had strong family support and has been active in the church. About a dozen people attended the sentencing in support of King, and several wrote letters of support that were noted by Phillips.
But Bilyeu also noted it was not King’s “first rodeo.” He’d been punished for defrauding institutions before he got caught scamming potential customers. Bilyeu said her office connected King with a counselor, who has met with him for over 50 therapy sessions. In the course of that therapy, Bilyeu said, King confessed that he had been sexually abused as a child and that he had never told anyone.
She said King has taken steps to get to the root of problem behavior that had led him to lie to victims and not seek help from loved ones. She said the less prison time he serves, the more opportunity he will be able to earn money to pay the substantial restitution owed to his many victims.
Phillips commended his efforts in therapy but said King’s pattern of behavior weighed heavily in her judgment.
“He is willing and able and prepared to go do his time,” Bilyeu said outside the courtroom after King was sentenced. “He is also committed to getting out and being a good citizen and being a different kind of person and he’s got a lot of life left in him. He’s going to get out and he’s going to be the good man that he is and that he wants to be. He is truly sorry for the crimes that he has done and he’s going to pay for them. I believe he has changed and I believe he will be a good and productive citizen upon his release.”
In his courtroom statement before he was sentenced, King told Phillips he was ashamed for what he had done, saying that if he had to sum up his experience so far in one word, it would be “wasted.”
He said he had lied, cheated and stolen from people, adding, “Unfortunately, lots of folks are worse off for having known me.” Those people, he said, he can’t “un-let down.”
He said it would be “just that I suffer,” and said that “I would have been taken out back and shot long ago.”
He said he would become a new man as he serves his latest punishment.
“I’ve made wrong choices for far too long,” King said, and then offered a final apology before his sentence was read.
Daily Citizen reporter Dylan Durrington contributed to this report.