The customer had been to the Glendale Porsche-Audi dealership three times. He said he was a doctor. He usually arrived in late-model Porsches.
So when he returned on a recent Saturday to buy a 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo with all the trimmings, the dealer accepted his check for $62,037.
After all, it looked like a bank cashier's check.
But it wasn't. And, after the man drove off in the sleek black sports car, leaving behind a worthless piece of paper, the dealership learned that the customer wasn't a doctor, either. The Glendale dealer is the latest victim of what police believe is a family with a penchant for fancy wheels who hit car dealers with counterfeit or bad checks.
The trio--an Asian man about 60 and two others who may be his son and daughter--have been linked to four such thefts in the last year, and police say they have been seen in many other expensive cars, leading to speculation that there may have been more thefts.
The older man calls himself Jesus Bonpua and the other two go by the names Robert Lee and Judy Lee, although they sometimes have used the aliases Robert Ching and Judy Chan, police said. They usually visit car lots several times, getting to know the dealers and building up a friendly relationship before trying to pass the checks, investigators say.
"They are pretty smooth operators," said Los Angeles Police Detective Charlene Reming, who has been investigating the trio since Sept. 24, when they allegedly stole a Scirocco from La Torre Volkswagen in Reseda. In that theft, the woman made the down payment with a personal check for $10,000. It bounced.
The trio is also suspected in the theft of a BMW and a Mercedes from American Autos, a car-leasing company in Westminster, Reming said.
Last Oct. 18, UCLA police stopped Robert Lee and discovered that he was driving the stolen Scirocco, Remind said. Lee used a bail bondsman to post the $6,000 bail but never returned to court, she said.
Investigators say the three have given dealers false addresses throughout Southern California. "Not even the bounty hunters can find them," Reming said, referring to the three private investigators hired by the bail bondsman to trace the trio.
Felony-theft arrest warrants for the two younger suspects were issued on Dec. 12, 1985, said Reming, who works in the LAPD's San Fernando Valley forgery unit. Glendale police, meanwhile, are looking for Bonpua.
In the Glendale case, Bonpua first visited the dealership at 1620 S. Brand Blvd. in June, said general manager Matthew S. Tachdjian. Calling himself a doctor, Bonpua arrived at the lot on two more occasions driving different late-model Porsches, Tachdjian said.
"He built up rapport, we felt comfortable with him," Tachdjian said.
Bonpua arrived at noon on Saturday, July 28, with a couple he identified as his son and the son's girlfriend to pay for a car. Tachdjian said the manager phoned him at home and told him he had a cashier's check for the car.
"I was told it was a cashier's check. I approved it over the phone," Tachdjian said.
The check was not a cashier's check; it was a business check drawn on the nonexistent account of a nonexistent warehouse firm supposedly located in San Francisco, said Glendale Police Officer Herb Cantwell.
He said the car likely will be stripped for parts or its identification number will be switched so it can be registered or sold.
Tachdjian, who says his employee erred by not examining the check closely to see if it was indeed a cashier's check, said the scam has taught him "not to deliver a car unless its cash."