Opening Statements Delivered In Eriksson Trial

POSTED: 2:44 pm PDT October 23, 2006

UPDATED: 4:44 pm PDT October 23, 2006

LOS ANGELES — A Swedish businessman who crashed a rare red Ferrari Enzo in Malibu in February had been hiding from British banks that tried to repossess the car and two other highend models, a prosecutor told a jury Monday.

But an attorney for Bo Stefan M. Eriksson said his client, who is being held on $3 million bond, did not try to hide or steal any of the cars.

The attorneys’ remarks came in opening statements in Eriksson’s Los Angeles Superior Court trial on five felony charges, including grand theft auto and embezzlement, involving a black Ferrari Enzo and black Mercedes-Benz McLaren that prosecutors contend were illegally shipped to the country from the United Kingdom.

Eriksson pleaded no contest last week to a misdemeanor drunken driving count. He will be tried separately on a weapons charge — gun possession by a felon — stemming from the discovery of a .357-Magnum Smith and Wesson in his Bel-Air home during an April 7 search.

In her opening statement to the six-man, six-woman jury, Deputy District Attorney Tamara Hall said the British banks did not know Eriksson had left the United Kingdom when they began to try and repossess the cars after he allegedly defaulted on lease payments in October 2005.

“Mr. Eriksson was living it up and sporting those vehicles right here in the U.S.,” said Hall, who contends that the lease agreement for the Mercedes and black Ferrari did not allow Eriksson to take the vehicles out of Britain.

After the three cars were shipped to this country, U.S. Customs officials delayed releasing them to Eriksson for two months while they examined the chain of ownership, Hall said. Eriksson avoided detection by the bank officials until the Malibu crash, which generated worldwide attention because the red Ferrari Enzo was so rare, Hall said.

In his opening statement, attorney Jim Parkman said Customs officials gave Eriksson permission to take the cars.

“What they determined was that everything was OK,” Parkman said.

The black Ferrari later became the subject of a civil action in Los Angeles by one of the British banks, Parkman said. To help the bank, a sheriff’s detective encouraged the filing of a stolen-car report so he could get a warrant and search Eriksson’s $6 million Bel-Air home for evidence of a possible “chop shop,” the lawyer said.

In such operations, vehicles are illegally dismantled and their parts sold to unsuspecting buyers. But the warrant turned up no evidence of any such operation by Eriksson, Parkman said.

“Nothing, none one single document, not one single tool, showed Mr. Eriksson possessing or dealing (in a chop shop),” Parkman said.

Speaking in a thick Southern drawl, Parkman told the jury his grandmother had an old saying that was applicable in the courtroom.

“No matter how thin you make a pancake, it still has two sides to it,” Parkman said.

Two other felony counts — embezzlement and grand theft auto — involving the crashed Ferrari were dismissed last Monday after Hall announced the prosecution was unable to proceed on those charges.

On that same day, just hours before jury selection began, Eriksson turned down a last-minute plea offer that would have sent him to state prison for two years and four months if he pleaded no contest to four of the five charges against him.

“I cannot agree that I stole the car because I didn’t,” the 44-year- old former executive of the now bankrupt video game company Gizmondo Europe told Judge Patricia M. Schnegg.

Opening statements had been scheduled last week, but the judge said one of the prosecution’s witnesses had been “in a horrible accident” in the United Kingdom and was “unable to travel now.”

Eriksson was charged nearly two months after crashing the red Ferrari — fewer than 400 such cars exist in the world — on Pacific Coast Highway while driving at what authorities said was more than 160 mph.

He initially told investigators he was not driving the car, but later admitted he had been behind the wheel. The two misdemeanor DUI counts stemmed from that crash. The McLaren was subsequently seized by police after Eriksson’s common-law wife, Nicole, who did not have a driver’s license, was pulled over in the car in Beverly Hills.

Eriksson has prior convictions in Stockholm, Sweden, for various offenses, including assault, drug and firearms charges and gross fraud by means of document forgery.

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