The largest Porsche dealer in the nation, still recovering from the sudden death of its owner in July, is now trying to disentangle itself from an alleged plan involving a former employee accused of more than $ 2.5 million in customer deposits to have paid to non-existent vehicles before he disappeared last month.
He is the same employee, the 44-year-old Shiraaz Sookralli, who last year was the target of allegations of fraud in a lawsuit against customers, a case that the shop owner considered to be an isolated incident & # 39 ;.
Champion Porsche at Pompano Beach, Fla., Which in the earlier case was one of the co-defendants, now sues Sookralli – the former vice president of the store of marketing and a salesman at the dealership for 10 years – and two others about an alleged schedule with fake orders for rare 911 GT3 and 911 GT2 RS models that lasted more than a year.
"We are going to make sure that the customers become healthy," said Tony Sciple, general manager at Champion Porsche, at Automotive News. Copans Motors Inc., which does business as Champion Porsche, filed the lawsuit on 7 September in court against Sookralli; his wife, Vimla Sookralli, from Plantation Acres, Fla.; Devika Budhram from Plantation, Fla.; and Champion Autosport.
Champion Autosport, claimed Copans, was a fictional entity created by two of the suspects to collect deposits from customers who believe they were buying limited-edition Porsches from the Champion dealer, then the funds were transferred to personal accounts.
It is not unusual for Porsche buyers to pay dealers large premiums and large deposits for much-requested models and wait months or longer for their orders.
Sookralli, according to the trial, presented potential buyers with fraudulent buyer deposit agreements & # 39; These agreements contain no manufacturer or allocation information about the vehicles and contain false and fraudulent information about the seller, the suit said, and Sookralli never ordered vehicles.
& # 39; Nobody was aware here & # 39;
The dealer said it discovered the scheme on September 4, when customers started calling their orders. Sciple said that the dealer has dismissed Sookralli and contacted law enforcement.
"No one was aware of what was going on here," said Sciple, who described Sookralli as a "sympathetic fellow."
Sookralli's whereabouts was unknown since he left work on August 28, according to a police report from the Sheriff's Office of Broward County.
The lawyer of the dealer, Roy Diaz, said that it has not been able to find Sookralli and investigates the police. Sookralli is also accused of having stolen a desktop computer from the dealer.
In a court record, Sciple said the dealer had contact with Sookralli via e-mail and identified 24 transactions "in his plan to deceive prosecutor and consumers." Sciple said in the filing that Sookralli admitted to receive $ 2,560,198.
Vimla Sookralli and Budhram have not sent any phone messages back to comment.
Sookralli, who has 10 children, had financial problems regarding child support payments and money judgments against him, according to the trial. At the end of August, one of his creditors, American Express Centurion Bank Corp., was seized on Champion's wages, which amounts to 25 percent of his net disposable wage. He owes more than $ 176,500 to the use of two American Express cards dating back to 2016, according to court documents.
At least two people have submitted police reports about Sookralli to the Broward County sheriff, including a resident in California who told Champion Porsche that Sookralli had been given permission to give him a 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS and about $ in July 2017 130,000 to Champion Autosport via Bank of America. No vehicle was ordered and the transaction did not go through Champion Porsche, the dealer told the police in the Sept. 5 that was obtained by Automotive News.
A person from East Hampton, NY, filed a police report on 9 September stating that he had contact with Sookralli on Champion Porsche and had connected $ 15,000 a year earlier with a Bank of America account as a down payment for a "pre- production 2018 "Porsche GT3 for delivery in July. "
Sookralli advised customers to transfer money to a Champion Autosport account at Bank of America – an account apparently managed by him and Budhram – and also accepted credit card payments, Sciple said in court documents.
A judge on 11 September told Bank of America to freeze the account and provide Copans Motors & adviser with all transactions that have taken place since 2010.
Porsche said in a statement that Champion Porsche made it aware of the most recent case, calling it an "unfortunate situation".
"Champion Porsche has assured us that it will help Porsche buyers who may have been affected and asks those customers to give their information to the Champion legal advisor," said a spokesman for Porsche Cars North America in an e-mail.
The discovery of the alleged fraud came a few weeks after the owner of the dealer, Dave Maraj, died in the middle of July from an apparent drowning. Maraj was also the former owner of the Champion Racing team that won several American Le Mans Series championships in the mid-2000s.
A year earlier Copans Motors had to deal with a lawsuit about a transaction in which Sookralli was allegedly involved. The suit, filed by Fellow Assets Inc. and M & L Luxury Cars Inc. in Pompano Beach, Florida, with the exploitation marks of Copans, the Sookrallis and Rampage Motors Inc. as accused, accuses them of fraud, unjust enrichment and writing bad checks.
Fellow and M & L claimed that Rampage was a sham, owned and operated by the Sookrallis, which offered high-end vehicles for sale. On 20 June 2016, they claimed, the Sookrallis through Rampage agreed to sell a white Porsche 911 R. They paid a down payment of $ 500,000, with a balance of $ 60,200 at the time of delivery, according to the process.
In the legal proceedings two separate buyer orders were added for the car, a list of Champion Motors as seller and Sookralli as seller and a Rampage Motors signed by Sookralli as a salesman.
"The defendants were confronted with the prosecutors when the vehicle described above was not offered and the accused confessed and admitted that the images were false and were made as a ruse to peg the claimants out of the $ 500,000," according to the lawsuit.
It seems that the Sookrallis has tried to make payments to the claimants – but with four bad checks.
A $ 75,000 dated May 12, 2017 signed by Sookralli was returned due to insufficient funds, as well as an amount of $ 75,000 from May 17, 2017. A check for $ 200,000 from Rampage Motors on May 19, 2017 was returned because the account was closed , just like a check for Rampage Motors for $ 150,000 from May 5, 2017.
The case went to mediation and a secret settlement was reached. Sciple said he could not talk about it.
& # 39; Isolated incident & # 39;
"Champion Motors and Champion Porsche did not have any involvement in the transactions in the business," said Diaz, Copans' attorney, who represented all the defendants in that case.
Sciple did not want to say whether Sookralli was disciplined. Diaz said that before the suit was handled, dealer owner Maraj sat down with Sookralli and had a conversation with him, and Maraj "felt at ease that this was an isolated incident."
The dealer plans to get customers' money back as soon as possible, "said Sciple, who also instructed clients to work with her lawyer at SHD Legal Group in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Sciple said that the dealer is a victim in the current case and that some stories and posts on social media have been painful in recent weeks. The Copans series deals with unfair competition and fraud, among other things, and strives for a complete accounting of the funds.
"Our track record speaks for itself about how we have done business over the last 30 years," he said. "We have a deceitful employee who left alone and stole that money from our customers."