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A Pileup of Charges in the Case of the Totaled Ferrari

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Los Angeles prosecutors filed embezzlement, grand theft, drunk driving and weapons charges Monday against a former European video game executive, whose involvement in the crash of a rare Ferrari Enzo in Malibu two months ago has mushroomed into a case filled with international intrigue.

The charges, more extensive than prosecutors had suggested last week, come as officials with Scotland Yard and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement continue to investigate the case, which involves the Swedish underworld, fake Homeland Security officials and an exotic car collection.

If convicted on all counts, Bo Stefan M. Eriksson, 44, would face up to 14 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty through his attorney, who described the charges as "overblown."

The case stems from the 162-mph crash of the Enzo, one of only 400 made, on Pacific Coast Highway on Feb. 21.

Eriksson told sheriff's deputies that he was a passenger and that the driver, a man he knew only as "Dietrich," had fled into the hills.

But prosecutors charged Monday that Dietrich never existed and that Eriksson had been behind the wheel — with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit — when the crash occurred. The charges were filed after officials received results of a DNA test of blood found on the vehicle's driver-side air bag.

Laying out their case against Eriksson for the first time, prosecutors accused him of embezzlement and grand theft for allegedly bringing the Enzo and the rest of his $3.8-million car collection to the United States, even though he had only leased them from British financial institutions. The lease contract, authorities said, prohibited him from taking the vehicles out of England.

He was also charged with possessing a handgun, which is illegal because he had been convicted of drug and counterfeiting felonies in Sweden.

Eriksson, dressed in an orange jail uniform, appeared in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom packed with journalists from around the world.

His attorneys protested that the $5.5-million bail set by Judge Mary Strobel was excessive. Prosecutors sought the high amount because they said detectives searching his Bel-Air estate April 8 found an airline ticket in Eriksson's name that would have him depart to London two days later.

"Right now, I have six or seven murder cases, including a death penalty case, where the bail is $1 million," said attorney Andrew Flier outside court.

Eriksson's other attorney, David Elden, said the .357-caliber handgun was not his client's but belonged "to a deputy sheriff for Orange County." The attorney did not elaborate, and Orange County Sheriff's Department officials declined to comment.

In an interview outside court, Elden described Eriksson as "totally innocent of all these charges."

"The press has blown this out of proportion," he said, adding that Eriksson is in a dispute with the British financial institutions over ownership of the destroyed Ferrari as well as two other expensive vehicles.

Elden also said Eriksson is not a flight risk because he has business ties in Los Angeles, though he did not say what they were.

Eriksson arrived in Los Angeles sometime last year, moving into the posh Bel-Air Crest section of Los Angeles with his wife and young son. Eriksson had been an executive with Gizmondo, a London-based video game company that filed for bankruptcy earlier this year with more than $200 million in debt. The finances of that company are now under investigation.

According to Swedish police records contained in the prosecutors' court filing, Eriksson in the late 1980s and early '90s was involved in counterfeiting, assault and drug crimes tied to a Swedish underworld group in Uppsala, a city 50 miles north of Stockholm. He was sentenced to prison three separate times, according to the records.

Some observers Monday marveled at how the single-car, non-injury crash in Malibu could unravel such a string of revelations.

"It's amazing. If the guy didn't get into the wreck, none of this would have happened," said Malibu Mayor Andy Stern, who said he hopes the charges send a message to other sports car drivers who exceed the speed limit on PCH.

"I've seen guys like him before get away with things so long and never get caught," he added. "So they do it more and more. But eventually, you get caught."

The crash occurred about 6 a.m. at Pacific Coast Highway and Decker Canyon Road.

Eriksson told deputies at the scene that he was not the driver and that a man named Dietrich had been behind the wheel. Eriksson said Dietrich ran away before authorities arrived.

Eriksson also told deputies that he was deputy commissioner of the police department of the San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority, a tiny private agency that provides rides to the disabled and elderly.

A few minutes after the crash, two men arrived at the crash site, identified themselves as Homeland Security officials and spoke to Eriksson at length before leaving.

Detectives continue to investigate any connection Eriksson may have had to the agency. At the same time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is looking into how Eriksson got into the United States.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Tamara Hall told the court Monday that Eriksson "did not inform immigration officials" about his previous criminal conviction, as the law requires.

On exotic-car websites and in the world of rare-car enthusiasts, the charges marked the culmination of what has become a soap opera.

The saga has particularly disheartened Ferrari aficionados.

"People like that don't care about the heritage that comes with Ferraris," said Dave Born, a member of the Ferrari Club of America. "He's not the first guy to leverage himself, and he won't be the last."

One person who wants the case to continue is Gregg Carlson, whose website, http://www.wreckedexotics.com , saw a surge in traffic when he posted photographs of Eriksson's totaled Enzo.

"He's the master of wrecked cars," he said of Eriksson.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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