BY ANNE SOBLE
The six men and six women on the jury in the trial of Bo Stefan Eriksson on four felony changes of embezzlement and grand theft of two exotic sports cars from British leasing institutions watched contrasting legal styles as opening statements were presented and witnesses began to take the stand.
Similar felony charges related to the million-dollar-plus red Enzo Ferrari that Eriksson allegedly crashed in Malibu last February were dropped when the lessor decline to take part in the case, and the driving-underthe- influence charges related to the crash were resolved with a no contest, or nolo, plea last week.
What was first estimated to be a 10-day trial in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg is now expected to last two-thirds that time because of the whittled-down list of charges and the case may even be ready to go to the jury on Friday, according to both sides. Lead prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Tamara Hall, set the stage for contentions that Eriksson, 44, a Swedish national with a criminal record, was pulling off a perfect scam on lessors of the red Enzo, a second Enzo and a Mercedes McLaren SLR, until the story of the crash became a worldwide media sensation.
Hall described Eriksson, a former high-paid executive with the now bankrupt Gizmondo Europe video game company, living the high life in Bel-Air and driving around in cars worth more than $3 million with leasing agreements that prohibited their being taking out of Great Britain. Though he was newly coiffed and garbed in boardroom attire, Hall wanted to evoke the man known in Uppsala, Sweden, where he served time on counterfeiting and fraud charges, as Tjock Steffe, loosely translated as ‘Fat Steffe’ (short for Stefan) or what is closer to the American Mafiosostyle tag of ‘Big Steffe,’ as in ‘Big Al’ or ‘Big Louie.’
No amount of Brooks Brothers transformation can alter the stocky, prizefighter-type frame of the defendant, who has been incarcerated since May, and, even if he gets off on all charges, is expected to face deportation hearings before the federal immigration agency that has prevented him from posting bail.
The so-called ‘Ferrari Guy’ prosecution is Hallís first high-profile case.
The seven-year veteran with the District Attorney’s Office is based in the D.A.’s Auto Insurance Fraud Division, not exactly known for the most colorful of trials until now.
But courtroom color is just what the Eriksson’s defense team hopes to bring to their client’s cause. Head counsel Jim Parkman pokes and prods at the prosecution case with folksy comments and proverbs befitting his Alabama roots.
Fresh from major courtroom victories in Alabama and Arizona cases that put him in the media spotlight, Parkman, dubbed a “jurors’ lawyer” for his ability to sway the folks in the jury box, doesn’t want that light to dim. Where Hall sees complicated contract details, Parkman sees fine print that is subject to interpretation. Where Hall sees illegal importation of cars into the U.S., Parkman sees highly visible actions that passed official scrutiny.
Where Hall sees wronged financial institutions, Parkman sees business establishments that should have known where the cars were being serviced and been able to contact Eriksson if they had contractual issues to discuss.
Parkman also hammers away on whether the disputes concerning the exotic super cars should even be the subject of a criminal proceeding in California as they are civil disputes with businesses in another country. The first prosecution witness, Iain Hyatt of Lombard Bank, the leaseholder on one of the two cars, took the stand Monday and Tuesday. His English accent and accountant’s mannerisms provided yet another style to contrast with the urban Hall and the down-home Parkman.
Next on the prosecution list of witnesses was Eric Mair of Coldesdale Bank, the second leaseholder, whose testimony was slated to continue after The News went to press.
An injured prosecution witness held up the trialís original starting time and there have been minor traffic delays, but both sides expect the remainder of the proceedings to move briskly.