A Real Wheeler-Dealer

He outfoxed car dealers and got his employees to pay him. Meet Howard Patterson, the man who sells cars that don't exist.

"It's a clear-cut case of misrepresentation if you're telling people you have some product that you don't really have," says John Warren, an attorney with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners in Austin, Texas. "You'll see things like that with the elderly, where you have someone selling some piece of land and the land doesn't exist. It happens all the time."

The plaintiffs in a pending federal court suit in Colorado Springs, Colorado, characterize Eurasia's operations as "one of the largest financial frauds in the United States," estimating that, thus far, the company has taken in more than $5 million.

But Patterson doesn't want to talk about it.
For two weeks he didn't return phone calls from New Times, nor would he meet with a reporter at his Fort Lauderdale office. But, one night in mid-October, he was visited at his modest Pompano Beach home, where he agreed to an impromptu interview, which took place, for the most part, in his driveway.

Dressed in an expensive suit and tie and leaning against his $90,000 silver Acura NSX, Patterson looked every bit the successful businessman. He was friendly and unintimidating.

"You know," he said, when asked about the allegations, "it's difficult to explain unless you're wearing these shoes and you're wearing them every day, but the company is legitimate. We've had our financial problems -- we admit to that -- but we intend to deliver."

As calm and candid as Patterson seemed that night, he simply won't answer certain questions. He refused to reveal his age or his origins. Although he's told business associates that he's from New York state and has decades of automotive experience, he's never provided further details. Patterson also told colleagues he was once a Navy Seal, but the Navy has no record of his service. That may be because Patterson, according to former employees at Eurasia, also goes by another name: Michael Howard Weiner. Patterson won't admit to that, but he did acknowledge that he has a brother named Mark Weiner. Weiner couldn't be reached for comment, and Patterson refused to explain the name discrepancy.

"Are you looking to do a background check?" Patterson asked at one point. "I'd rather do it in front of my attorney. But I'll tell you this: We are a legitimate company."

One of the first car dealerships to do business with Eurasia was Best Bid Auto Auction, which sells used cars in Plantation to all buyers, regardless of credit history. In February 1997, just as Patterson was getting Eurasia off the ground, he met with Best Bid's manager, Ofer Kohavi, and executives at Riverbank, the Fort Lauderdale investment group that bankrolls Best Bid's projects.

The following, according to Riverbank executive Ellis Simring, was Patterson's pitch: Contracts have been signed with Daewoo, a Korean electronics and automobile manufacturer that has a plant in Romania, where the company will build a line of sedans called the Rodae and export them, via Eurasia, to the United States. The sticker price for the four-door sedan, with air conditioning and air bags, is $5995 -- in other words, a brand-new car at a used-car price. All Riverbank has to do, on behalf of Best Bid, is put down a $25,000 refundable deposit, which will be held in an escrow account, to reserve Best Bid's slot as Broward County's exclusive Eurasia franchise. This doesn't, however, lock Best Bid into the deal. The Rodae will arrive in April, and Best Bid executives will inspect the car, then decide how to proceed. If Best Bid likes the Rodae, Riverbank simply needs to pay another $25,000. Eurasia will provide advertising and promotional help to make Best Bid -- Broward County's only Rodae dealership -- a financial success.

Impressed by the pitch and the no-obligation setup, Riverbank mailed a check to Eurasia's attorney in mid-February 1997. A few weeks later, Simring received two letters from Eurasia -- one confirming receipt of the check, another congratulating the company on the decision.

But when the Rodae didn't arrive in April, Simring called Daewoo, which has an international office in Seoul, Korea, and the Rodae factory in Romania. He was unable to confirm, independent of Patterson, that a contract had been signed. Simring tested Eurasia by writing a letter to Patterson inviting him and other Eurasia executives to join Riverbank on an all-expenses-paid trip to Romania to check on the Rodae's progress. In a letter dated April 30, 1997, a Eurasia vice president responded by stating: "To be quite frank, we feel that such intrusion into our business is neither required nor justified and your request is hereby denied."

Bill Tucker, Daewoo Motor America's vice president of marketing and customer relations, recently explained why Eurasia was so hesitant to share details about its relationship with his company: No relationship exists. Neither Daewoo nor any of its manufacturers or subsidiaries, he explained, has ever signed a contract with Eurasia for any purpose.

On May 23, a month after the Rodae was supposed to be available for inspection, Simring wrote a letter to Eurasia's attorney requesting the return of Riverbank's money. Because it wasn't returned, Riverbank filed suit against Eurasia and its general counsel, Luis Roses, on September 19, 1997, in Broward County Circuit Court.

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