By Associated Press
Published on 10/24/2006
LOS ANGELES – A Swedish businessman’s scheme to defraud British banks that loaned him money for two fancy sports cars almost worked until he crashed a rare, $1.5 million Ferrari in Malibu, Calif., earlier this year, a prosecutor said as the man’s grand theft and embezzlement trial began.
Bo Stefan Eriksson, a 44-year-old former executive of the now-bankrupt video game company Gizmnodo Europe, had initially claimed that another man was driving the rare Ferrari Enzo and that he was a deputy commissioner with the “anti-terrorism division” of a small transit agency in the suburban San Gabriel Valley in California. He later acknowledged that he was driving the car.
Prosecutors said Monday that Eriksson’s elaborate plan to “live it up” by bringing to the United States three leased cars – a red Enzo, a black Enzo and a Mercedez-Benz SLR McLaren – began to unravel amid the widespread media attention given to the Feb. 21 crash. The red Ferrari was totaled in the crash and Eriksson walked away with a cut lip. The scheme was “almost pulled off without a trace,” Deputy District Attorney Tamara Hall said in her opening statement.
After the cars cleared U.S. customs and Eriksson obtained insurance, he stopped making payments on the black Enzo and the Mercedes, she said, adding that he avoided detection by the banks until plowing the red Enzo into a utility pole on Pacific Coast Highway at 162 mph.
Eriksson’s attorneys argued Monday, however, that the cars were brought legitimately to the United States and the banks knew their whereabouts.
Eriksson hired attorneys and other specialists to help transport the vehicles and to clear U.S. customs, his attorney Jim Parkman said in his opening statements.
“When he moved the cars here, he didn’t move them in the middle of the night,” Parkman said, adding that the cars were exhibited in Las Vegas, were serviced at a Ferrari dealership in California and that Ferrari can track any of the cars it services.
“The banks knew about the trip to Vegas,” he said. “There wasn’t one word mentioned of stealing or embezzlement of any kind.”
Eriksson had leased the cars through three different British banks while living in that country last year. A short time later, he moved to Los Angeles and had the cars shipped there, even though the lease agreements did not allow him to take them out of Britain, Hall, the prosecutor, said.
“Unbeknownst to them, Mr. Eriksson was living it up and sporting those vehicles right here in the U.S.,” Hall said.
When the banks tried to repossess the cars, she said, Eriksson refused to give them back. Authorities contend he was drunk when he crashed the Enzo, and last week, he pleaded no contest to the drunken driving charge.
The plea is not an admission of guilt and is treated as such for sentencing purposes. Authorities originally accused Eriksson of stealing the red Enzo from one of the banks but dropped those charges last week.
Eriksson, who has a criminal record in Sweden for extortion, assault and other crimes, will be tried separately on a felony charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm ó a .357-Magnum handgun was found in his Bel-Air home during an April search, authorities said. If convicted of the embezzlement, grand theft and gun possession charges, Eriksson could face up to 11 years in prison.