by: Jim Strickland Updated:ATLANTA —
Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland has spent months tracking a convicted mobster turned Atlanta car dealer.
Strickland’s sources confirm the man is using law enforcement ties to stay out of jail.
"He thinks he's untouchable," said customer Kenja Jones of Cobb County.
The dealer now calls himself Immanuel Cohen. Channel 2 found his picture plastered all over Facebook.
Ten years ago he was Mani Chulpayev, mob enforcer turned government informant.
In 2002, federal prosecutors told the New York Times that Chulpayev was "one of the most important witnesses in the battle against Russian organized crime." You can read the full article here.
Facing a life sentence for arson and extortion, a judge instead set Chulpayev free. He had served four years in detention following his arrest.
Kenja Jones and her husband Travis found out about Mani the mobster, only after losing $40,000 to Mani, the metro Atlanta car dealer.
"This is my FX 35," said Travis Jones as he showed Strickland a dirty Infinity SUV. It sits on car stands to prevent repo men from taking it.
"I haven't driven it in three years," Jones explained.
They write the check each month to pay a $19,000 car loan. The Joneses had also paid $10,000 cash.
The SUV sits rotting because they can't get tags -- the title to the SUV is forged. Information is cut and pasted from a title for an Infiniti G 35 sedan they also bought, which was reported stolen, Strickland said.
"I'm driving down the road and I get pulled over, felony stop, and they let me know I'm driving a stolen car," recalled Jones.
Jones spent three hours in cuffs before they let him go, but he never saw the G35 again. He lost the $12,000 cash he'd spent on the sedan.
"We've spent all this money and we shouldn't have to be suffering as we are," said Kenja Jones.
They won a civil suit against Chulpayev when he didn't even show up for court.
Strickland traced his Facebook postings to an industrial complex in South Florida, where he approached Chulpayev at his new car business.
"I want to talk to you about some of your car deals, sir," Strickland said.
"I don't know what you want to talk about. There's no comment, and if you put me on TV, I'll sue the (expletive) out of your company," Chulpayev responded before speeding away in a high-end Mercedes.
Strickland discovered Chulpayev plead guilty in Atlanta in 2005 to selling stolen luxury cars.
Again, federal prosecutors asked that his sentence be reduced. Court documents show Chulpayev had worked with the FBI to bust a murder-for-hire plot in South Carolina.
Chulpayev got three years cut from his potential sentence. He returned to the car business in time to snag the Jones' business at his Roswell car lot.
The Joneses said they were shocked after they reported their case to police.
"I've been told by Roswell PD that the reason he can't be arrested is that someone from the FBI is keeping him from going to jail," said Travis Jones.
Chulpayev refused to answer when Strickland asked, "Are the feds doing you favors to keep you out of jail, sir?"
Multiple state and local sources, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak on the record, told Strickland that Chulpayev continues to be an informant for the FBI, the Secret Service and at least one local police department.
The FBI canceled the on-camera interview they'd first agreed to. Strickland received this carefully worded statement, attributed to Special Agent in Charge Mark F. Giuliano of the Atlanta FBI office .
“The FBI does not provide for the wholesale protection from criminal investigation to individuals engaged in criminal activity as described. More specifically, the FBI did not at any time issue instructions to the Roswell Police Department or any other area law enforcement agency regarding any individual that might infer that such protection was being provided. The FBI remains an integral part of the law enforcement community and is committed to providing services, resources, and information whenever and wherever possible to its law enforcement partners.”
Neither the Secret Service nor Roswell police will comment.
Chulpayev has closed his Roswell car lot. His business in Florida is still open.