US: Two Sentenced for Exploiting Bankrupt Individuals in Fraud Scheme

Published: 07 February 2024

Fraud Board

Fenner and Birkley received sentences for defrauding bankrupt individuals of their cars in exchange for the purported promise that they would cover their lawyer fees. (Photo: Nick Youngson,, License)

By Henry Pope

Two Americans were sentenced Monday for defrauding bankrupt individuals of their vehicles, in a scheme where they promised the proceeds of the sales would provide the financial lifeline needed to save their victims from destitution.

Brian Fenner, 45, of Indiana, and Dennis Birkley, 64, of Wisconsin, received sentences of 77 and 60 months, respectively, in U.S. federal prison for several counts of fraud and money laundering.

The charges stemmed from a fraudulent “free bankruptcy program” the two conjured up.

“These two men shamelessly exploited the financial difficulties of their victims to enrich themselves, disguising their scheme as a potential lifeline to people who were in extreme financial difficulty,” said FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Herbert J. Stapleton.

Between 2013 and 2016, Fenner advertised the program to people on the verge of filing for bankruptcy. Through this purported act of kindheartedness, he promised to cover their bankruptcy attorney fees if they signed over their vehicles to him.

Normally, without such ‘too good to be true’ offers, the cars would simply be claimed by the banks that financed the original purchase.

Desperate for any sort of lifeline numerous people from across the country surrendered their vehicles to Fenner, prosecutors said.

Fenner then arranged for the debtors’ cars to be towed to lots he owned in Indianapolis. Despite his customers’ economic hardships, he charged outlandish fees for this service and forced them to sign a lien on the vehicles to cover the costs.

A lien is an agreement in which the creditor holds a legal right to the debtor’s property until the debt is repaid or a predetermined obligation is met.

Now with a fraudulent claim to the cars, Fenner then pretended to sell them to Birkley at phantom auctions. This, he claimed, would cover the liens and his purported promises to pay his victims’ legal fees.

In reality, however, it was all a plot to claim ownership of the vehicles in the eyes of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, so that Birkley could get clean titles and then sell them for their market value.

“For years, these greedy men preyed on people in financial crisis by offering a purported financial lifeline too good to be true—and was in fact just a series of lies,” said Zachary A. Myers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana.

Through this scheme, in which he and Fenner made off with more than US$1 million, the two cut out the banks and left their victims holding the bag, at a time when they had nothing but debt to their name.

After their sentencing in July 2023,  Fenner opted not to report to prison and was then re-arrested the following month. For failing to surrender, he received an additional seven months on his prison term.