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Fans That Rolls Could Do Without : Autos: The luxury car has become the vehicle of choice among many of Southern California’s white-collar criminals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The image of the most prestigious car in the world is being tarnished by some of those who drive it--Southern California’s white-collar criminals.

“Whenever we get a case now, we always look for the Rolls,” said chief Assistant U.S. Atty. Terree Bowers in Los Angeles. Within the past two years, nearly every major white-collar criminal prosecuted in his office has driven one.

Orange County S&L; felons John Molinaro and Janet McKinzie each had a Rolls-Royce, hers with the license plate XTACI (ECSTASY). The Coughlans, a Newport Beach patriarch and two sons convicted last year of an $8-million real estate fraud, bought three matching Rolls in the same year. Douglas Blankenship, a Capistrano Beach man now awaiting trial on charges he conned banks out of $25 million, was arrested while parking his gold Rolls.

“We’d rather they drove one of those German cars,” said Rolls-Royce spokesman Reg Abbiss, quickly adding that “everybody who buys a Rolls-Royce or Bentley shows exquisite judgment no matter what his or her background.”

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Some of the cars were bought at Newport Auto Center along Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, the largest Rolls dealership in the United States. Last year, the firm sold 140 new Rolls and 80 “pre-owned.”

David Murphy, the British-born sales manager at Newport Auto, said he has personally served some of Orange County’s more infamous residents, including McKinzie.

“The criminal element can appreciate the finer things in life just as much as anyone else,” joked Murphy, who reported that McKinzie paid up front for her 1986 “magnolia” (light beige) Corniche II. “She was flush with cash,” he said, adding that McKinzie was “excited about the purchase . . . . We didn’t know where the money came from.”

Murphy refused to disclose the purchase price, but McKinzie’s car was eventually sold by the FDIC for $125,000.

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McKinzie is serving a 20-year prison term for looting Santa Ana-based North America Savings & Loan and using the money to finance a lavish lifestyle that included her Rolls, $1,000 cocktail dresses and a birthday party with Sammy Davis Jr. as entertainment.

The Rolls isn’t the most expensive car in the world, but it’s probably the most prestigious. Each car takes months to assemble by hand, fetching anywhere from $130,000 to $226,000.

Don Ray Dixon of Vernon Savings in Texas, a former high-flier in the thrift industry, said in a 1988 Times interview that “you don’t access Florida development loans or Southern California construction loans by taking a Greyhound bus.”

Dixon, once the sole owner of a Rolls-Royce dealership, was convicted of 23 counts of bank fraud and is now awaiting sentencing.

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Once someone is in trouble, the public relations value of a Rolls drastically depreciates. Prosecutors--and reporters for that matter--harp on the car if the money to buy it came from ill-gotten gains.

“I think the media makes a point of saying if the criminal is driving a Rolls-Royce,” said Jill Amadio, a Newport Beach public relations agent. “ ‘He arrived at court in his Rolls-Royce’ . . . . If he is driving a Cadillac, they don’t mention it.”

Newport Beach developer Kent B. Rogers, sentenced in October to eight years in jail for a massive bank fraud, said in an interview last week that he regrets ever buying a Rolls-Royce.

“It was the worst car I ever had in my life. It changed lanes by itself,” he reported, adding that the gas mileage wasn’t so great either. “You couldn’t go to San Diego from Orange County on one tank of gas,” he said. “You had to stop in Oceanside to fill up.”

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SOME ROLLS-ROYCES AND THEIR INFAMOUS DRIVERS

John Molinaro

* Convicted of looting Ramona S&L; Rolls sold at auction.

Don Ray Dixon

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* Convicted of looting Vernon Savings & Loan; owned a Rolls-Royce dealership in La Jolla.

The Coughlans

* John M. Coughlan Sr. and two sons convicted of $8-million real estate fraud; bought three Rolls-Royces.

Edwin T. McBirney III

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* Convicted of looting Sunbelt Savings & Loan; Sunbelt paid $3 million for dozens of Rolls once owned by former Oregon guru Bhagwan Rajneesh.

Janet McKinzie

* Convicted of looting North America S&L; Rolls license plate XTACI.

Kent B. Rogers

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* Convicted of helping to defraud Bank of America out of $118 million; sold his Rolls after three months because it wasn’t practical enough.

Barry Minkow

* ZZZZ Best owner convicted of securities, credit card and mail fraud with a scheme to bilk investors and banks of more than $100 million; rented a Rolls for the cover shot on his biography.


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