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Judge Orders Newport Imports to Be Liquidated : Courts: The luxury car dealership closes after missing a payment due as part of its reorganization plan.


NEWPORT BEACH — A bankruptcy judge Wednesday ordered the liquidation of Newport Imports, once one of Orange County's most exclusive dealers of exotic luxury cars like Ferraris, Aston Martins and Jaguars.

Judge John J. Wilson ordered that parent company Lee West Enterprises, operator of Newport Imports, be liquidated under Chapter 7 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, said a lawyer involved in the case.

The dealership, nestled among the yacht brokers and swank restaurants of Coast Highway in Newport Beach, was closed late Monday after a receiver was named at the behest of the property's primary creditor, Tokai Credit Corp., said Lee West Enterprises' lawyer, Todd C. Ringstad.

Owner Leland West could not be reached for comment.

About 100 Newport Imports employees lost their jobs in the sudden closure.

Ringstad said he did not contest liquidation of the dealership, which had been operating since September, 1992, under bankruptcy court protection. Tokai moved to have a receiver appointed, he said, after Lee West Enterprises missed the deadline for a payment called for under terms of its Chapter 11 reorganization plan.

"When Tokai did not grant any additional time, it was clear we would not be able to reorganize," Ringstad said Wednesday. "Everyone was really pulling for Newport Imports. We really wanted to see this reorganization."

He said he did not know the amount of the payment that was missed.

Documents included with Lee West Enterprises' initial bankruptcy filing stated that Tokai was owed $8 million for land and the buildings that made up the car dealership.

Ringstad said Tokai has taken all the cars that had been for sale at the dealership except for its collection of Jaguars.

"It's a real tragedy. It was a real landmark for Newport Beach," Ringstad said.

Though Newport Imports had been badly shaken by the recession, a new line of Jaguars had revved up sales, he said. "The dealership had just had the best weekend in three years," he said. "Things were looking up."

The British-made luxury car sells for prices starting at $50,000.

Newport Imports was one of the nation's largest Jaguar dealers, said Joseph W. Hernandez, a Jaguar district sales manager. In the boom years of the 1980s, he said, Newport Imports sold 500 or more Jaguars a year.

He, too, said the dealership's sales had been increasing recently.

Hernandez was at Newport Imports on Wednesday afternoon to make sure that customers who had left their cars for service could pick them up. Some former employees also stopped by.

One of them, dressed in a green Jaguar golf shirt, was June Armstrong, who said she had worked for the dealership as a clerk. The business, she said, "was very special. The people here all worked together."

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