By John Rogers
6:30 p.m. November 1, 2006
LOS ANGELES – The Swedish businessman who wrecked a rare, $1.5 million Ferrari in Malibu was portrayed by prosecutors Wednesday as a slick con man who flimflammed British banks into loaning him millions of dollars to lease classic sports cars, then disappeared with them.
Bo Stefan Eriksson tried to hide the thefts through what appeared to be legitimate business deals, Deputy District Attorney Tamara Hall said in her closing argument. His plan was undone, Hall added, when he tried to drive the high-performance Ferrari Enzo 162 mph on Pacific Coast Highway on Feb. 21 and ran it into a utility pole, splitting the car in half. Crashing the rare car, of which only 400 were made, showered him with international attention, Hall said, and ultimately led authorities to him.
Eriksson, 44, is charged with two counts each of grand theft and fraudulent concealment with the intent to defraud. Prosecutors said he stole a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and a black Ferrari Enzo that is identical except in color to the red Ferrari he wrecked. ìHow did he get here? His own arrogance got him here,î Hall said as Eriksson sat stoically in court, dressed in an immaculate dark suit and white shirt with striped tie. Occasionally he turned to scan the courtroom’s spectator section, looking for people he knew and sometimes smiling at them.
Defense attorney Jim Parkman countered in his closing argument that Eriksson was really the victim in this case, taken advantage of by greedy bankers who pressed their agenda against him until it resulted in criminal charges. He said Eriksson made a $300,000 down payment on the cars he leased and regularly made payments of several thousand dollars a month until his videogame company, Gizmondo, went belly up.
“Sure, the banks want their money. I don’t blame them. Did he breach the contracts she (Hall) showed you? Sure he breached them,” Parkman said. But, the attorney added, his client was simply a man who got into financial trouble, not a crook.
If Eriksson is convicted of stealing the cars, Parkman continued, his former bankers will be celebrating because they will have the cars, which as collectors items have appreciated in value. They can then sell them at a profit and Eriksson will have lost the hundreds of thousands of dollars he paid the banks.
“This man has put nearly $400,000 of his own good money into two automobiles,” Parkman said.
During her rebuttal, Hall ridiculed the idea the banks were celebrating, saying they were simply relieved to have found the cars they loaned Eriksson more than $3 million to buy. She said the banks had no idea where either Eriksson or the cars were until he wrecked the Ferrari. Even after that, she said, he refused to give the other two back.
Eriksson, who was not charged with attempting to steal the wrecked Ferrari, pleaded no contest on Oct. 19 to a drunk driving charge in that crash.
The prosecutor said that soon after Eriksson took possession of the cars he brought them illegally to the United States, where he hid them.
Parkman, however, insisted that Eriksson never tried to hide the cars. He said he took them to a car show in Nevada and kept a high profile as he drove them around Southern California.
“The guy’s on the Internet. He’s all over the place. Good gracious alive,” the defense attorney said.
Hall said Eriksson began a sophisticated fraud process in August 2005 when he leased the two Ferrari Enzos and the Mercedes-Benz, securing funding through different banks. She said he then set up sham transactions where he pretended to sell the cars to employees of Gizmondo so they could be shipped to the United States under their names. Then, Hall said, Eriksson took the cars back, claiming the sales fell through.
“This is sophistication at its highest,” she said. He stopped making payments on the loans as soon as the cars passed through customs, she said.
“He gets what he wants, and once he gets it here he cuts you off,” she said.
Parkman said Eriksson brought the cars from England to the United States because he was moving here, adding he bought a $6 million home in Bel-Air in August 2005, making a $2.4 million down payment. The lawyer said the deals to sell the cars fell through only when Gizmondo failed, adding that turned the buyers against Eriksson.
“When it failed they couldn’t get the cars. They’re mad,” he said. “You think for one minute they’re going to help Stefan Eriksson?”
At the conclusion of closing arguments, Judge Patricia Schnegg instructed jurors, then sent them home for the day. They were to begin deliberations Thursday morning.