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Arrest Is Made in Ferrari Accident

Times Staff Writers

Sheriff’s deputies have arrested the Swedish video game executive who crashed in a rare Ferrari in Malibu in February, alleging that he didn’t own that car and others in his $3.5-million exotic car collection, authorities said Sunday.

Stefan Eriksson faces grand theft charges after detectives raided his gated Bel-Air estate Friday night, spent six hours searching it and then took him into custody Saturday night.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said detectives concluded that the wrecked Ferrari, a red Enzo -- as well as a rare Mercedes and a second, black Enzo -- were owned by British financial institutions.

The cars were purchased in Britain last year when Eriksson lived there. He apparently brought them to Los Angeles when he moved here. But financial institutions that held titles to the cars informed detectives that payments had lapsed, Whitmore said.

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The arrest underscores that what started as a curious auto accident on Pacific Coast Highway has expanded into a multi-pronged investigation, he said. The search was conducted by the sheriff’s emergency operations bureau, part of the county’s Homeland Security division.

“This is the beginning of the investigation,” Whitmore said. “All three cars have now been confiscated.”

Although no one was seriously injured in the crash, the investigation has generated significant attention because of the strange circumstances surrounding it and the fact that it destroyed one of only 400 Enzos ever built. Authorities believe the car was going 162 mph when it smashed into a power pole.

Eriksson told deputies who arrived at the scene that he was not the driver and that a man named Dietrich had been behind the wheel.

Eriksson said Dietrich fled the scene, but detectives have been openly skeptical of this story.

Investigators took a swab of Eriksson’s saliva in order to match his DNA against blood found on the Ferrari’s driver-side air bag. The comparison results are back, but detectives won’t release the findings.

A blood-alcohol test on Eriksson at the time showed him to be above the legal limit for driving in California, so he could face several other charges if he’s found to be the driver.

Eriksson also told deputies that he was deputy commissioner of the police department of a tiny transit agency in the San Gabriel Valley.

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

Detectives are investigating any connection Eriksson may have had to the agency.

Eriksson, 44, was booked into the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. He is being held without bail because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has put a hold him, though it is unclear why. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

Eriksson was an executive with Gizmondo, a European video game company that filed for bankruptcy earlier this year with more than $200 million in debt. According to Swedish authorities, he served prison time in the early 1990s after being convicted of counterfeiting.

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During the search at Eriksson’s Bel-Air home, detectives found the black Enzo, worth more than $1 million, Whitmore said.

His Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, worth $600,000, was seized last month when his wife was stopped in Beverly Hills on suspicion of driving without a license. That car had been reported stolen to London’s Scotland Yard.

The case has been the talk of exotic car groups since the accident. On Sunday, some Ferrari aficionados expressed hope that the episode might finally be over.

“The Ferrari community is very upstanding and a very serious group of people,” said Gil Lucero, Pacific region president of the Ferrari Club of America. “It’s unfortunate folks with more money than sense get into these things.”

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