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A few days before the NADA convention, Patterson called a meeting, during which attorney Gary Rosenberg told Eurasia executives that there would be no car at the show. Furthermore the executives were prohibited from talking to dealers unless he, Howard Patterson, or a man named Bill Prior, another Eurasia consultant, were present, according to an affidavit in the Colorado Springs case.
"Defendant Rosenberg gave each employee an outline summarizing the position Eurasia Motor Corporation would take when faced with questions from dealers at the NADA convention regarding why there was no vehicle, and Rosenberg advised that we would be 'fired on the spot' if we did not follow that outline," the affidavit states. Rosenberg, who no longer works for Eurasia, declined to comment for this article.
But the thrust of the message was simple: Keep your mouth shut.
That was no problem for Cecil Cain, a former Eurasia vice president, who says he was so embarrassed by Eurasia's meager display at NADA that he talked to only three dealers at the convention. Because it didn't have a vehicle, Cain says, Eurasia put a Chevrolet V-8 engine on a pedestal and slapped a black-and-silver Gazelle sticker on it. By the end of the month, more than 15 dealers had requested their money back.
"It was a fiasco," scoffs Cain. "I mean, it was a joke."
Dealers didn't know it yet, but Eurasia was having money problems, too. By the end of 1997, Eurasia owed the Feldmans $25,000, the former employees say. The company had also bounced checks, including one for $3800 sent to Office Furniture Solutions, a Fort Lauderdale-based furniture rental company. That bill was eventually paid, but Eurasia still owes $3800 more, according to company president Gerry Goodin. That's not all Eurasia owes. The lease ended in March, Goodin says, and Eurasia has yet to return the $30,000 worth of furniture.
Eurasia's alleged recklessness with money wasn't unusual. The company was consistently late paying rent for the Fort Lauderdale office before it was finally thrown out in July 1998. Eurasia didn't fare any better in Corpus Christi, where Patterson moved with several employees in October 1997, ostensibly because the port there offered less-expensive fees than other ports. Eurasia set up shop in a newly renovated warehouse at the port -- where Corpus Christi Mayor Loyd Neal cut the ceremonial ribbon -- and leased an entire floor of the fanciest office building in the city. But in March 1998 Eurasia was evicted from that building too, according to property manager Cherylyn Boyd.
While car dealers can justify their business dealings with Patterson by claiming they simply made poor investments, some Eurasia employees, who were aware of what was going on at Eurasia, believe they have only themselves to blame.
"I was an idiot," Beth Feldman admits. "The best way I can explain it to you is this: I was conned. The man is a very smooth-talking man."
Feldman joined Eurasia even before it was officially incorporated through Jules Pier, one of Patterson's former colleagues at a company called East European Imports (EEI), a Miami-based company that plans to import a line of Romanian SUVs into the United States by mid-1999. (The two companies are unrelated, and, unlike Eurasia, EEI does have proof that it signed contracts with foreign manufacturers.)
Both Pier and Patterson worked at EEI until 1996, when they were fired, according to the company's founder and former president, Jack Trotman. Trotman would not say why the men were fired, and he later continued to do business with them. Trotman retired from EEI in March 1996, just a month after Eurasia was founded. He then moved to Corpus Christi and was hired six months later as a Eurasia consultant. Patterson also hired Trotman's sons, J.T. (who declined to comment) and J.R. (who could not be reached for comment), as salesmen. Although all three Trotmans resigned from Eurasia in early 1998, when it appeared the Gazelle would be a permanent no-show, the elder Trotman says he initially believed he could help his former employees.
"Howard Patterson was a great salesman, and I had no problem with him as a salesman," Trotman said recently from his Corpus Christi home. "And Jules is very good at what he does -- at providing the sizzle -- and I think if you can focus these guys, they can do good."
Like most of the folks who got involved with Eurasia, though, Trotman evidently didn't do his homework. In October 1996 Jules Pier was arrested by the Davie police and charged with grand theft for allegedly stealing roughly $70,000 worth of petroleum products from Petro-Chem, a business he co-owned. Pier pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to ten years' probation plus restitution.
The Petro-Chem warehouse was located next to a wholesale package-supply store called Keystone Tapes, where Beth Feldman had been a salesperson for two years. Over time she and Pier had become close friends. And although she knew of his arrest, she considered him something of a mentor and father figure. At the end of 1996, he told her about a new business venture called Eurasia, which would make him a wealthy man. And in January 1997, as Feldman's father-in-law lay dying at home, Pier introduced her to the man he said was going to get him there -- Howard Patterson.