Sentencing in federal car fraud scheme delayed, attorney to stay on case

John Solberg (file image)
John Solberg (file image)
Published: Oct. 7, 2022 at 6:43 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 7, 2022 at 11:32 AM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A high-profile attorney representing a man convicted in a federal car sales fraud scheme will stay on the case after filing a motion to withdraw Thursday.

John Solberg appeared in federal court in Green Bay Friday for a hearing. Solberg and Attorney Mark Richards asked for a delay in sentencing and the judge agreed. The sentencing was scheduled for Nov. 10, 2022. The court pushed it back to Jan. 13, 2023.

Solberg and Richards appeared to make amends one day after Richards filed a motion to withdraw, saying Solberg had accused him of “lying, misrepresentation and engaging in unethical behavior to trick him into pleading guilty.”

“With regret I swear the attorney client relationship is irretrievably broken,” Richards wrote.

Richards, who represented Kyle Rittenhouse in the Kenosha shootings trial, says Solberg “explicitly” told him he cannot communicate his position regarding his allegations to the court.

The issue between the attorney and client was an error involving a date on plea agreement paperwork.

On Aug. 19, Solberg appeared via video in front of a federal judge in Green Bay to plead guilty to one count of federal mail fraud. As part of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining 14 charges he was facing. As part of the deal, Solberg agreed to pay restitution in the amount of $150,000 before the time of sentencing on November 10.

Count 15 reads: “On or about April 21, 2016, in the State and Eastern District of Wisconsin, having devised the scheme described in paragraphs 3 through 5 of this indictment, and for the purpose of executing the scheme, and attempting to do so, JOHN M. SOLBERG, knowingly caused to be delivered by United States mail a promissory note in the amount of $28,000 to S.R. and A.R.”

Solberg was arrested and charged after a multi-year investigation into his businesses Standard Pre-Owned and Backwoods Bargains in Suamico and Kaukauna. Investigators say he forged titles and sold cars but kept money instead of paying the owners of the vehicles.

The indictment says Solberg conspired to “defraud automobile sellers, automobile buyers, financial institutions, and others through the use of the United States mail, by means of interstate wire communications, and by concealing material facts from federally insured financial institutions.

In a letter filed in court, Solberg claimed that a plea document he signed Aug. 18 was “not a signature for the agreement that is now in the court’s docket.” He claims his signature was falsified and that Richards edited a date on the agreement without Solberg’s permission.

Solberg states that on Aug. 18, he told Richards that he would sign a predated document for Sept. 16 that he could use once his “concerns” with the plea agreement were “taken care of.” He says Richards contacted him and told him he made a mistake with the date on the document and that Richards changed the date for him.

“Mr. S called and texted non-stop, to try to stop the falsified document from being given to the court,” Solberg writes.

He continues, “If Mr. Richards would not have submitted the signature of 9-16-2022 and changed the date to August 19th, Mr. Solberg would not have moved forward with the proceedings on 8-19. Since this act happened Mr. Solberg had no choice but to go along with the agreement,” Solberg writes.

Solberg states that he has “worked hard to pay the victims back since 2016″ and that his goal in the deal was to get “the victims paid fast and protecting the spirit of harmony with everyone involved.”

In the letter, Solberg states that he’s not asking to vacate the plea but that “some of the items promised that were not listed in the plea agreement be rectified.” Solberg says he would like more time for sentencing to “get his affairs in line if the sentence was worse than expected.” He says he would also like to gather and call characters witnesses.

Solberg also claims media exposure during the announcement of the plea deal “cost his right to a fair trial.”

“Now it would look like a feud between Mr. Solberg and the celebrity attorney,” Solberg writes.

Solberg claimed his due process “has been damaged no matter which way he goes.”

In response, Richards says the the plea agreement was negotiated between himself and the government with “heavy input from my client.” Richards admits to altering a date of the signature as he believed it to have been an “unintentional error.” He says the document was dated as signed on “9-16-2022″ by Solberg. He believed Solberg had written the date in error, so he changed the date and corrected the date of his signature to read “8-18-22.” Richards said he had inadvertently dated his signature as “9-18-22.”

“When Mr. Solberg objected to my corrections, I discussed with him what options were available to change or rectify the situation. After several discussions, Mr. Solberg determined he wanted to go forward with the plea hearing as originally scheduled on August 19, 2022,” Richards wrote.

Richards and Solberg appeared to have come to terms before Friday morning’s hearing.