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Ex-Car Dealer Pleads Not Guilty in Plot to Kill Salesman

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former San Diego car dealer executive accused of hiring two Mexican hit men to kill a former salesman pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Friday in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

William Wayne (Will) Nix Jr., 37, of Upland pleaded not guilty to one count each of murder for hire and conspiracy to commit murder for hire in connection with the 1988 execution-style death of Salvatore Thomas Ruscitti. If convicted, Nix faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Ruscitti, 58, claiming he and other salesmen had been cheated on their sales commissions, had sued the dealership where Nix was general manager, and which was owned by Nix’s mother and stepfather. That lawsuit was the only motive cited so far by a federal grand jury, which indicted Nix last week.

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U.S. District Judge Barry T. Moskowitz set Nix’s bail hearing for Monday afternoon, and ordered Nix held at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center. Scheduling of additional motions and proceedings will be heard Monday morning before U.S. District Judge Leland C. Nielson.

Nix was charged with federal crimes in connection with the slaying because the two gunmen were recruited from Mexico and crossed the international border to commit the crime, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Larry Burns, coordinator of the office’s violent crime task force.

Nix has temporarily retained defense attorney Michael Pancer, who declined to comment on any aspect of the case Friday.

Burns said he intends to argue against bail Monday at Nix’s bail hearing. “We will attempt to convince the court that he’s a danger and will obstruct justice if released,” Burns said.

Ruscitti, who had worked for Nix at three different car dealerships and who had developed a friendship with him, was shot four times in the chest and head by two gunmen as he stood in the doorway to his Leucadia home Sept. 17, 1988.

Ruscitti was a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed against Center City Ford, which was owned by Nix’s mother and stepfather, Lula Mae and Ralph Osborne, and later by Sunroad Enterprises, which bought the dealership in 1985, changed its name to Kearny Mesa Ford and which was also named in the lawsuit. Nix was the general manager of the dealership until it was sold to Sunroad.

The suit alleges that Ruscitti and other salesmen were swindled an average of $125 on each car they sold because the dealership systematically altered factory invoices and other figures that effectively reduced the sales commission they should have received. The suit is pending in San Diego Superior Court.

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