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N.H. Grand Jury Indicts Former Honda Dealer : Autos: Southland man is charged with perjury in connection with bribery probe involving employees and dealerships. He will ‘vigorously defend himself,’ attorney says.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal grand jury in New Hampshire has indicted a former Southern California Honda dealer on three counts of perjury in connection with an ongoing bribery investigation of Honda employees and dealers.

Peter Epsteen, 64, of Rancho Mirage, who owned Honda and Acura dealerships in Beverly Hills, Fontana, Palm Springs, Riverside and Albuquerque, N.M., is charged with lying to FBI agents about his knowledge of and participation in a 1980s scheme in which high-ranking American Honda Motor Co. officials obtained bribes from dealers in return for favorable treatment in the awarding of franchises and allotments of the most popular models.

Former company officials received about $10 million in kickbacks, U.S. Atty. Paul Gagnon has said. As much as half that allegedly went to an Orange County man, S. James Cardiges, American Honda’s former senior vice president for sales.

So far, 17 former Honda officials--seven from California--and two former Honda dealers have been indicted in the probe. Of those, 15 have pleaded guilty to various felony counts.

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Federal officials have said that Torrance-based American Honda was victimized by a corps of renegade executives and had no corporate responsibility for the illegal activities.

In the latest indictment, handed down Dec. 15, Epsteen is accused of lying to FBI agents about paying $19,000 for a pool and spa at the Palm Springs vacation home of John W. Billmyer, former American Honda vice president for sales, and about paying $8,000 toward the down payment on the house.

The indictment also alleges that Epsteen told Billmyer in 1988 about a $60,000 payment he had made to another former Honda official but that when questioned by agents last year, he denied having such a conversation.

Epsteen, who retired from the auto business in 1989, could not be reached for comment.

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One of his lawyers, Harry C. Batchelder Jr., said in a phone interview Thursday from his New York office that Epsteen “will vigorously defend himself. We believe that the way this investigation was conducted raises serious legal questions” about entrapment.

“They asked Peter for his best recollection of things that happened 12 years ago,” Batchelder said, “and then they say it is perjury.”

Batchelder said he does not expect a trial to be scheduled for Epsteen until after the two- to three-month trial of Cardiges, Billmyer and one other former Honda official, which is set to begin Feb. 7.

Cardiges and a former Honda western zone manager, Dennis R. Joselyn of Penn Valley in Northern California, have been charged with racketeering, conspiracy and mail fraud. Cardiges, 48, of Laguna Hills, also faces a charge of witness tampering, while Billmyer has been charged with conspiracy.

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A hearing on Cardiges’ motion to squelch evidence obtained during a federal raid on his home last year is scheduled for today.

The case is being tried in New Hampshire because it grew out of an investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office there.


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