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Builder of Classic Car Replicas Exonerated of Organized Fraud Charges

Builder of Classic Car Replicas Exonerated of Organized Fraud Charges

RA was arrested on July 12, 2008, for charges of organized fraud less than $20,000.00, third degree grand theft more than $300.00, but less than $20,000.00, and fraudulent use of a credit card. Twelve days later, he retained Jeffrey H. Garland to represent him on these charges. RA was in the business of building replicas of classic sports cars from the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Outwardly, these “replicas” looked identical to the intended car. Internally, the replicas were completely different. The replicas were built using the best, current automotive equipment, motors, transmissions and electronics. RA marketed these replicas under several names, including “RetroVette” and “Vintage Vette”.

Attorney Garland initially sought to obtain records of RA’s past business activities, as well as records directly involved in the prosecution. Past records demonstrated a pattern of building and delivering quality replicas to the satisfaction of numerous customers. The current customer (the “purchaser”), however, was unhappy, and claimed that he had been “defrauded”.

Having determined that there was a history of legitimate business activity, Attorney Garland focused on the particulars of the transaction with the single, unhappy purchaser, who claimed he had been defrauded.

First, a bit of overview. Most persons committing fraud obtain the money…and run. The fraudster never intended to deliver the promised product or service. In such cases, there is rarely – almost never – evidence that actual work or services were performed in connection with the promised transaction. In those cases where some work or service is performed, it is more in the nature of a “teaser”, which is intended to encourage the victim to part with more money.

Attorney Garland’s investigation established that the contract for the replica in this case called for a payment of approximately $94,000.00. Although the replica was never completely finished, Attorney Garland proved that the contracted replica actually was built, although never finished.

The purchaser asserted that his American Express card was fradulently used, without his knowledge or permission, in order to purchase automotive parts and materials, some of which had nothing to do (he claimed) with the replica he was purchasing. Attorney Garland sought to obtain evidence to directly contradict these assertions.

The purchaser communicated with RA via e-mails. Fortunately for RA, these e-mails were obtained and reproduced for evidentiary purposes. These e-mails showed that the purchaser wished to use credit cards in order to obtain “points” from the credit card companies. The purchaser could have paid via check or electronic transfer. It was the purchaser’s idea to have RA pay for materials with the purchaser’s credit cards. This agreement and understanding was fully documented in the e-mail communications.

A replica body is made with a fiberglass mold. This fiberglass body, together with doors and certain other internal parts, must be crafted individually by an expert fiberglass fabricator. Attorney Garland determined that some $5,800.00 worth of fiberglass resins and related materials were purchased from Fiberglass Supply Depot, Inc., in Fort Pierce, Florida. These charges were billed to the purchaser’s American Express card over a period of several months. The purchaser paid American Express without complaint. In fact, Attorney Garland found e-mail correspondence showing that the purchaser accounted for these American Express transactions as part of the amount he paid.

The purchaser became increasingly unhappy in his relationship with RA. He made demands for an immediate refund of all payments or immediate presentation of the completed car – both demands being in violation of the written contract with RA. The purchaser then unilaterally contacted American Express to have several of the transactions “cancelled”. The net effect of cancelling these already approved and paid transactions was to take money from the suppliers.

The purchaser then “went behind the back” of RA and began dealing directly with a mechanic who was helping to build the replica under contract with RA. The defense contended that the purchaser received a vehicle with at least the amount of material and services “in it” as the purchaser paid for. The fiberglass body was no longer on the chassis, because the purchaser had “reversed the charges” on fiberglass related materials, as well as other items.

Attorney Garland’s investigation established that RA had a business relationship with the mechanic, and that RA had paid the mechanic in full for the work done on the purchaser’s replica, as well as other replicas. The fiberglass artisan on the purchaser’s body, as well as other bodies, was likewise paid in full for all of his work.

Attorney Garland met with the principals at Fiberglass Supply Depot about the circumstances of this case. It turned out that the fiberglass materials charged to the purchaser’s American Express card were only a portion of the items provided on RA’s account. Attorney Garland verified that RA paid for every other item charged to his account in full.

Under these circumstances, it was obvious that Fiberglass Supply Depot had been “victimized”, but not by RA. Fiberglass Supply Depot was victimized by the purchaser’s ability to secure a reversal of payments already made by American Express. As an honest businessman, RA reimbursed Fiberglass Supply Depot for the approximately $5,800.00 which had been reversed by American Express.

After much effort and the passage of more than a year, the State recognized these circumstances by filing a nolle prosequi of all charges on August 25, 2009.