Man of Trinidadian descent charged in US over Porsche scam

porsche

It has been clas­si­fied as the largest fi­nan­cial crime in Porsche Cars North Amer­i­ca’s his­to­ry and it was al­leged­ly per­pe­trat­ed by Shi­raaz Sookral­li, 44, a man born to Trinida­di­an par­ents who has lived in the Unit­ed States all his life, but is re­port­ed to have deep busi­ness con­nec­tions in this coun­try.

In­sid­ers told the Sun­day Guardian that Sookral­li as­sist­ed sev­er­al wealthy lo­cal busi­ness­men in pur­chas­ing ve­hi­cles in Flori­da dur­ing his tenure at Cham­pi­on Porsche.

“I know sev­er­al lo­cal busi­ness­men de­vel­oped a re­la­tion­ship with him over a pe­ri­od of time and he was help­ful in the past with help­ing some of them buy Porsches here,” said an in­sid­er who has known Sookral­li for many years.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, lo­cal busi­ness­men who pur­chased prop­er­ty and lux­u­ry cars in Flori­da are now be­ing in­ves­ti­gat­ed.

Sookral­li thought he had pulled off the biggest mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar con job last year af­ter he con­vinced cus­tomers to make down pay­ments on ex­ot­ic cars that did not ex­ist and pock­et­ed close to US$2.2 mil­lion, fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors said.

The ini­tial scam was ex­posed in a civ­il law­suit filed last Sep­tem­ber by the Cham­pi­on Porsche deal­er­ship in Pom­pano Beach, South Flori­da, the coun­try’s largest Porche deal­er.

Sookral­li went in­to hid­ing, trig­ger­ing months of a long joint Fed­er­al Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion (FBI) and In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice (IRS) in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors ar­rest­ed him on April 2 and laid charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and mon­ey laun­der­ing, ac­cord­ing to the court doc­u­ments ob­tained by Guardian Me­dia and re­port­ed in the US me­dia.

Sookral­li had worked at the deal­er­ship since 2007 and had worked his way up to the po­si­tion of vice pres­i­dent of the deal­er­ship. He es­tab­lished a busi­ness called Cham­pi­on Au­tosports and trad­ed on his pro­fes­sion­al rep­u­ta­tion to lure cus­tomers in­to or­der­ing ul­tra-rare lim­it­ed edi­tion Porsche 911 GT.

For cars that are in high de­mand, buy­ers have no trou­ble fork­ing out US$20,000 to US$30,000 in ad­vance to stake their claim on one of the lux­u­ry sports cars that cost close to US$500,000.

The scheme was out­lined in an af­fi­davit by FBI Spe­cial Agent Austin Steel­man af­ter Sookral­li’s first court ap­pear­ance. He ex­plained that Sookral­li es­tab­lished a shell cor­po­ra­tion, Cham­pi­on Au­tosport, in 2017, which played off the name of Cham­pi­on Porsche and an­oth­er en­ti­ty called Cham­pi­on Mo­tor­sports.

Steel­man said Sookral­li then opened a bank ac­count in the shell cor­po­ra­tion’s name and en­cour­aged po­ten­tial cus­tomers to de­posit mon­ey in­to that ac­count.

“To con­sum­mate these sales, Sookral­li re­quired and ac­cept­ed cash de­posits, wire trans­fer and bank checks, that he lat­er de­posit­ed in­to the shell com­pa­ny’s bank ac­count. The buy­er’s re­lied on Sookral­li’s long­time Cham­pi­on Porsche em­ploy­ment, his ti­tle as Vice Pres­i­dent Mar­ket­ing, his rep­re­sen­ta­tions that they would be re­ceiv­ing a yet-to-be-built Porsche ve­hi­cle and the seem­ing­ly le­git­i­mate bank ac­count for wiring de­posits to Sookral­li,” Steel­man said.

At least 30 cus­tomers nev­er re­ceived a Porsche ve­hi­cle and Sookral­li pock­et­ed more than US$2,200,000.

In his af­fi­davit, Steel­man de­scribed Sookral­li’s “ex­trav­a­gant and op­u­lent lifestyle.” Fed­er­al au­thor­i­ties con­duct­ed in­ter­views with per­son­nel at high-end Mi­a­mi clubs and restau­rants.

“Banks records analy­sis shows that Sookral­li amassed large tabs at these night clubs and restau­rants that were paid with the pro­ceeds of his fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­i­ty,” the FBI agent said.

Sookral­li’s wild spend­ing at night­clubs left an elec­tron­ic trail be­hind show­ing the like­ly ex­is­tence of an off­shore bank ac­count. Ev­i­dence al­so sug­gest­ed that Sookral­li fun­nelled in ex­cess of US$10,000 from his shell com­pa­ny ac­count to bank ac­counts held in his fam­i­ly’s name which were all used to pur­chase “lux­u­ry ve­hi­cles and jew­ellery.”

What was even more brazen, Steel­man said, was that days af­ter the deal­er­ship filed the civ­il suit last Sep­tem­ber, a Cham­pi­on Porsche at­tor­ney con­tact­ed Sookral­li by phone and asked him if he had tak­en hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars from the com­pa­ny’s cus­tomers. Ac­cord­ing to Steel­man, Sookral­li said: “More like mil­lions.”

The Porsche civ­il at­tor­ney lat­er asked Sookral­li for a list of the peo­ple he had tak­en mon­ey from. Strange­ly enough, he com­piled it al­most the same day send­ing the list that al­lowed the com­pa­ny to re­pay the cus­tomers. How­ev­er, af­ter that day, Sookral­li’s trail went cold.

The FBI fi­nal­ly got per­mis­sion to search his locked of­fice in Oc­to­ber last year. There they found an old com­put­er and old re­ceipts from his spend­ing spree. They be­lieve he re­moved the new com­put­er to cov­er his tracks.

Sookral­li was grant­ed a bond of US$200,000 last Fri­day when he ap­peared be­fore Mag­is­trate Judge Patrick M Hunt and his next sched­uled court hear­ing is on Tues­day.

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