High-End Luxury Vehicles, Roadsters Up for Auction in Criminal Case

… Government plans to use sale to pay back victims of Brown in fraud scheme …

baltimoresun.com

By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

2:18 PM EST, March 1, 2011

Carefully examining the contours of a gleaming Ferrari 360 Spider convertible, 21-year-old Daniel Giron couldn’t help but imagine himself as owner of the luxury car, seized by the U.S. government from Byron Keith Brown, a Maryland man convicted last year of wire fraud and money laundering.

After admiring the car Monday afternoon at a vehicle auction site in Elkridge, Giron whipped out his phone, leaned in close to the cherry-red exterior and snapped a couple pictures of his face next to the Ferrari logo.

“It’s not common to see on the street,” Giron said, when asked what attracted him to this particular make and model. “These are faster, I think.”

The Ferrari is one of 17 high-end vehicles seized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury from Brown, who was accused by authorities of duping wealthy investors in a Ponzi-type online scheme between 2003 and 2009. The cars were set to be auctioned Tuesday afternoon at the Manheim auction site in Elkridge, and the public was invited to a preview of the vehicles Monday.

Authorities say Brown stole more than $17 million from investors, even setting up a fake website where his victims could sign in and see the value of their “investments” rise.

“You’d watch your investment go up,” said Rebecca A. Sparkman, a special agent with the Treasury Department, “but in fact it was a completely fabricated online scam.”

Brown was nabbed as part of “Operation Broken Trust,” which targeted investment fraud across the country and has led to actions against hundreds of criminal defendants since August.

Authorities say the former Ellicott City resident used the money to buy the luxury cars, along with a Virginia mansion and courtside seats at NBA games. Displayed on the floor of the car auction site Monday, the vehicles included a blue Bentley coupe, a Lamborghini roadster, a hulking, black Rolls-Royce Phantom Saloon, several BMWs, two Land Rover sport utility vehicles and a 1936 Auburn Speedster.

Luxury vehicles of that caliber are not usually sold at auction but instead through private sales or dealerships, said Brian Scott, a self-described collector of both exotic cars and “regular, old American iron,” while making the rounds at the auction lot Monday. The sheer number of high-end vehicles will attract a crowd at Tuesday’s sale, Scott predicted.

“You may get a lot of high-rollers in here that overbid on stuff,” he said.

The U.S. government plans to use the proceeds from the sale to pay back some of Brown’s alleged victims. Sparkman said the government is hoping to raise about $1 million from the sale of the vehicles. The government has also seized some money from Brown’s bank account, but will likely never retrieve the full $17 million he allegedly stole, Sparkman said.

“It’s impossible usually to recover all the money,” she said. “It’s just gone. It’s just spent away, unfortunately.

“Mr. Brown enjoyed the money and enjoyed the flash,” Sparkman added.

Sean O’Kelley came to Elkridge from his home in Macon, Ga., with about $60,000 and a number of credit cards, hoping to find a steal on a luxury car at the auction. If he gets a good deal, he said, he hopes to quickly sell the car for a profit.

“The high-end vehicles got my attention,” he said.

Though he has bought and sold more modest cars before, and frequents housing auctions in Georgia, “I figure the more expensive cars you get more bang for your buck.”

O’Kelley said he looks forward to a long drive back to Georgia behind the wheel of a luxury car, should he make a successful bid.

“I’ll probably show it to all my friends and take them out for a drive before I sell it,” he said.

For Scott, the car collector, Brown’s expensive taste reminded him of another Maryland schemer, Jeffrey A. Levitt, a Baltimore slumlord who in 1986 admitted to stealing almost $15 million from his savings and loans operation, Old Court. Decades ago, Scott attended the auction of Levitt’s vehicles, too, and found them garish.

“They all want to look more important than they are,” Scott said, noting the flashy, lemon-yellow finish on the Lamborghini and extra-large rims on a copper-toned Land Rover. “This guy had better taste than Jeffrey Levitt did but he’s still tacky.”

jtorbati@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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