It has been classified as the largest financial crime in Porsche Cars North America’s history and it was allegedly perpetrated by Shiraaz Sookralli, 44, a man born to Trinidadian parents who has lived in the United States all his life, but is reported to have deep business connections in this country.
Insiders told the Sunday Guardian that Sookralli assisted several wealthy local businessmen in purchasing vehicles in Florida during his tenure at Champion Porsche.
“I know several local businessmen developed a relationship with him over a period of time and he was helpful in the past with helping some of them buy Porsches here,” said an insider who has known Sookralli for many years.
According to reports, local businessmen who purchased property and luxury cars in Florida are now being investigated.
Sookralli thought he had pulled off the biggest multi-million dollar con job last year after he convinced customers to make down payments on exotic cars that did not exist and pocketed close to US$2.2 million, federal prosecutors said.
The initial scam was exposed in a civil lawsuit filed last September by the Champion Porsche dealership in Pompano Beach, South Florida, the country’s largest Porche dealer.
Sookralli went into hiding, triggering months of a long joint Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) investigation.
Federal prosecutors arrested him on April 2 and laid charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering, according to the court documents obtained by Guardian Media and reported in the US media.
Sookralli had worked at the dealership since 2007 and had worked his way up to the position of vice president of the dealership. He established a business called Champion Autosports and traded on his professional reputation to lure customers into ordering ultra-rare limited edition Porsche 911 GT.
For cars that are in high demand, buyers have no trouble forking out US$20,000 to US$30,000 in advance to stake their claim on one of the luxury sports cars that cost close to US$500,000.
The scheme was outlined in an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Austin Steelman after Sookralli’s first court appearance. He explained that Sookralli established a shell corporation, Champion Autosport, in 2017, which played off the name of Champion Porsche and another entity called Champion Motorsports.
Steelman said Sookralli then opened a bank account in the shell corporation’s name and encouraged potential customers to deposit money into that account.
n Continues on
“To consummate these sales, Sookralli required and accepted cash deposits, wire transfer and bank checks, that he later deposited into the shell company’s bank account. The buyer’s relied on Sookralli’s longtime Champion Porsche employment, his title as Vice President Marketing, his representations that they would be receiving a yet-to-be-built Porsche vehicle and the seemingly legitimate bank account for wiring deposits to Sookralli,” Steelman said.
At least 30 customers never received a Porsche vehicle and Sookralli pocketed more than US$2,200,000.
In his affidavit, Steelman described Sookralli’s “extravagant and opulent lifestyle.” Federal authorities conducted interviews with personnel at high-end Miami clubs and restaurants.
“Banks records analysis shows that Sookralli amassed large tabs at these night clubs and restaurants that were paid with the proceeds of his fraudulent activity,” the FBI agent said.
Sookralli’s wild spending at nightclubs left an electronic trail behind showing the likely existence of an offshore bank account. Evidence also suggested that Sookralli funnelled in excess of US$10,000 from his shell company account to bank accounts held in his family’s name which were all used to purchase “luxury vehicles and jewellery.”
What was even more brazen, Steelman said, was that days after the dealership filed the civil suit last September, a Champion Porsche attorney contacted Sookralli by phone and asked him if he had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company’s customers. According to Steelman, Sookralli said: “More like millions.”
The Porsche civil attorney later asked Sookralli for a list of the people he had taken money from. Strangely enough, he compiled it almost the same day sending the list that allowed the company to repay the customers. However, after that day, Sookralli’s trail went cold.
The FBI finally got permission to search his locked office in October last year. There they found an old computer and old receipts from his spending spree. They believe he removed the new computer to cover his tracks.
Sookralli was granted a bond of US$200,000 last Friday when he appeared before Magistrate Judge Patrick M Hunt and his next scheduled court hearing is on Tuesday.