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5 charged in alleged luxury car scam that netted $1.1 million

Police say Harbor Motors in Costa Mesa sold the vehicles on consignment but failed to pay the owners.

December 28, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Five Orange County men have been charged in a $1.1-million scam in which they allegedly sold foreign luxury cars on consignment but did not pay the vehicles' owners in at least 15 cases, authorities said Thursday.

The case developed after several owners complained to police in July and August that they had sold their cars through the dealership, Harbor Motors in Costa Mesa, but had not been paid or received checks that bounced. Costa Mesa police launched an investigation and the dealership immediately closed.

Most of the vehicles were BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Porsches. The price of the cars ranged from $30,000 to $60,000, with the total combined value reaching at least $1.1 million, said Sgt. Frank Rudisill of the Costa Mesa Police Department.

Finance companies, lien holders and buyers of the cars were also victims, authorities said, because title transfers were not handled properly and the vehicles could not be registered. In some cases, owners had not been paid nearly a year after the car had been sold.

"They would take a car in on consignment, sell it and play games with you for as long as they could," Rudisill said. "Everything came to a head when the victims would no longer play games."

The Orange County district attorney's office issued warrants for the five men Monday; two turned themselves in Wednesday, two more surrendered Thursday, and the fifth told police he would surrender next week.

Dan Dutcher, a lawyer for Ricardo Fuentes, 41, of Fullerton -- considered by authorities to be a key figure in the case -- said his client was as much a victim of the co-defendants as any of the car owners because he put up $100,000 in seed money for the business and signed checks but was unaware of any problems. After Fuentes discovered them, he worked with police and the victims to set things straight, Dutcher said.

"When he did find out about this, he did everything he could to try to make it right," Dutcher said. "The bottom line is that he had nothing to do with the operations of the business."

A lawyer for the second defendant regarded as a principal in the organization -- Manh "Guy" Dac Hua, 35, of Westminster -- declined to comment, saying he had not yet seen the court papers. The other three defendants were identified by police as David Emmott, 67, of Yorba Linda; Jalal Jalali, 60, of Irvine; and Patrick McConnell, 63, of Laguna Hills.

None of those three suspects nor their attorneys could be reached for comment.

Police said the car owners were contacted by Harbor Motors after they placed advertisements to sell their vehicles in the Auto Trader or local newspapers, and encouraged to sell through Harbor for a $200 fee. In many cases, the sellers were told Harbor had already found a buyer for the car.

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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