Swedish businessman turns down a plea deal

LOS ANGELES, October 16, 2006 – A Swedish businessman who authorities say crashed a stolen Ferrari sports car worth $1.5 million on Pacific Coast Highway turned down a plea deal Monday that would have had him spend two years and four months in prison. Judge Patricia M. Schnegg asked Bo Stefan Eriksson, 44, to confirm he was turning down a “very generous offer,” saying he would likely face much stiffer penalties if convicted.

“I cannot agree that I stole the car because I didn’t,” responded Eriksson, speaking through a Swedish interpreter in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Broad-shouldered with a buzz cut, Eriksson wore a dark suit and was not handcuffed. He’s been in custody since being arrested earlier this year.

In the deal, Eriksson would have had to plead guilty to embezzlement of a Mercedes- Benz SLR McLaren and a black Enzo Ferrari – different from the red Enzo Ferrari he crashed. He would also have to plead guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon, a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence, and pay a $25,000 fine.

Eriksson’s lawyer, James W. Parkman III, said the offer had been made last week.

“I left him to think about it,” said Parkman. “But he really wanted to go to trial.”

Eriksson has been charged with three counts of embezzlement, three counts of grand theft and illegal gun possession, all felonies. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of drunken driving.

If convicted on all charges, he could face up to 11 years in prison.

Eriksson’s decision to turn down the deal came as jury selection was set to begin later Monday. Both Schnegg and Parkman said they expected the trial to begin as soon as Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege that Eriksson illegally imported two luxury Ferrari Enzo sports cars and a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren to the United States from Great Britain. One of the Enzos was destroyed Feb. 21, when he hit a utility pole in Malibu while traveling 162 mph. The red sports car was destroyed but Eriksson suffered only a cut lip.

The crash has captured attention as much for the rareness of the automobile as for intrigue surrounding Eriksson.

Eriksson initially identified the driver as a German man named Dietrich, who authorities could not find. He later Eriksson acknowledged he was driving the car, police said. Authorities say Eriksson has claimed he was a deputy commissioner with the “antiterrorism division” of a small transit agency in the suburban San Gabriel Valley.

Eriksson is a former executive with Gizmondo Europe Ltd., a computer game company that went bankrupt last year. He spent five years in a Swedish prison in the 1990s for assault, extortion and other crimes.

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