US: Fifth Member in Off-Road Tire Ponzi Scheme Pleads Guilty

Published: 16 January 2024

Off-road TiresAnother conspirator who defrauded millions from victims in an off-road tire ponzi scheme pleaded guilty in U.S. court last week. (Photo: Olga Ernst, Wikimedia, License)

By Henry Pope

A New Jersey man returned to the U.S. from Turkey last week to plead guilty to his part in a nationwide off-road tire Ponzi scheme that defrauded millions from his victims, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio reported.

Ahmet Neidik, 64, of Fort Lee, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud, as part of a scheme in which he and four other co-defendants defrauded more than 50 investors of roughly US$50 million.

According to prosecutors, the five-man ring told their victims their money would be invested in off-road tires at a steep discount and then re-sold at a higher price. Investors were promised a 15 to 20 percent rate of return on investment, to be received within 180 days.

The tires they promoted to prospective investors were the type used with heavy duty earthmoving and mining equipment machinery. In actuality, however, the conspirators rarely traded in tires; when they did, they used the same ones across multiple deals.

To attract new investors, private planes were put on display to showcase the group’s image of success. To gain entry into their tire portfolio, victims had to make large initial investments, which were submitted via wire transfers, authorities said.

The group also employed a sham escrow agent to falsely reassure their victims that their investments were safe until the tires could be flipped for a profit, authorities said.

Neidik co-owned and headed day-to-day operations for several transportation, logistics and importing/exporting businesses. This allowed him to use his businesses as a front for the scam’s proceeds. He would also wire money to his partners’ bank accounts.

John K. Eckerd, Jr., 58, of Dallas, whose case is still ongoing, is the alleged leader of the multi-state conspiracy. According to the indictment, from 2012 until 2018, he allegedly passed himself off as an entrepreneur and businessman with expertise in the off-road tire market, and created numerous corporate entities and bank accounts under false names to launder his ill-gotten gains.

Also named as members of the ring are Jason E. Adkins, 46, of Jackson, Ohio; Afif Baltagi, 45, of Houston; and Todd Wilkin, 60, of Hillsboro, Ohio.

Baltagi, who worked logistics for a Houston freight company, provided his co-conspirators with access to large storage areas where the merchandise could be housed, prosecutors said.

In January 2022, Wilkin pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy, in which he posed as a neutral third-party off-road seller in deals arranged by Adkins.

As part of his guilty plea, Neidik agreed to pay $370,000 in restitution. His sentencing date has yet to be determined.