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.

Feldman didn't know anything about Patterson, but she was impressed with his business sense and promises about the future. He didn't know much about her either, except what Pier had told him, but he offered her $1000 a week, plus future stock options, to take care of his new company's finances. There was one caveat, however. Patterson told Feldman he had no credit and needed help to pay for basic business expenses -- just for a few weeks, he assured her, until the investors were lined up.

Feldman says she trusted Pier, and her family needed the money she believed Eurasia would eventually supply. So in February 1997 she signed her own name to a lease for an office in a Fort Lauderdale building and to a 12-month furniture lease. Without telling her husband, who was busy with his ailing father and their business, she also called her credit card companies and requested duplicates of her and her husband's cards.

She says Patterson asked her to do this -- just to get the company off the ground -- and at first he and his employees ran up the credit and paid the bills immediately to get credit increases. Eurasia employees racked up thousands of dollars a month, Feldman says, on so-called "business expenses," and she showed New Times a sampling of the bills: $117 for clothing at a Gap store in Warwick, Rhode Island, $20.44 at Patsy's Package Store in Peasdale, Rhode Island, $255.84 to the Grand Casino Hotel in Gulfport, Mississippi, and $696 to Freddy's Diamonds in Sunrise.

Almost immediately Eurasia missed a payment on the Feldmans' Citibank card. In March 1997 the bank called Seth to inform him that his card was overdrawn by a few hundred dollars. Thinking it was a mistake, he called Beth at work, and she explained what she had done.

Beth is reluctant to talk about why she let Eurasia use the credit cards. She says only that she thought she'd found an opportunity to help her family. Her husband, however, has had plenty of time to think about what she did and how it could have happened.

"I was not in my right frame of mind," Seth Feldman said one afternoon over a cigarette and a half-eaten chef's salad at a Deerfield Beach Cracker Barrel. "I was closing my retail store. I was taking care of my father, who had kidney failure. I was on Prozac. I was having an emotional episode myself. But Beth wanted the best for us. She saw an opportunity. But, you know, she was naive, and she decided to take advantage of this."

That March, however, Seth was less philosophical. After he got off the phone with Beth, he drove to Eurasia's office to confront Patterson. "Howard said, 'Oh, no, no. I just needed a little money,'" Seth Feldman recalls. "'I just needed some help. We're partners. We'll all be millionaires.'" Patterson then offered him a $1000-a-week job in the company's parts department.

Feldman accepted, but, after just three months on the job, his doubts resurfaced. He made a few phone calls and concluded, according to his affidavit in the Colorado Springs case, that Eurasia "was a fraud perpetrated on unsuspecting automobile dealers."

Prosecuting a criminal fraud case isn't easy. First you have to establish criminal intent, which means proving the alleged perpetrator knew, or should have known, that he was selling something he either couldn't get or didn't have. Then you have to track down the alleged con artist's assets, says Bob Emerson, an attorney and a business professor at the University of Florida. "A lot of it is trying to follow the trail," Emerson explains. "Who did what, who was really in charge, where are they now, and what kind of assets do they have, if any?"

In July 1997 Seth Feldman thought he knew the answers to these questions. He confronted Patterson and was fired immediately, according to his affidavit. Eurasia owed the family $25,000, according to the Feldmans, and Beth continued to work for Patterson, hoping he'd somehow import a car into the United States. She'd brought her family in so deep, she says, that she had no choice but to continue and eventually recoup some of her losses.

But by December 1997 Beth Feldman had yet to see any money and was tired of listening to Patterson's promises. She confronted him about his business practices, and, according to her affidavit, she too was fired. "I jumped at what I thought was a good opportunity," she now concludes, "and, like so many other people, I got scammed."

Aside from the Feldmans and Luis Roses, whose combined claims total $125,000 in lost wages and unreimbursed expenses, six other employees claim Eurasia owes them as well. In a signed affidavit for the Colorado Springs case, for instance, Eurasia's former senior vice president, Cecil Cain, says Eurasia owes him more than $17,000. Even Jules Pier says Eurasia owes him money. He and Patterson were once colleagues, but Patterson fired him purportedly because he learned that Pier was a convicted felon.

"At this point I have really nothing to say to him," Pier grumbled one evening. "This man has put us under just like he's put 30 or 40 other people under. Don't get me started on Howard Patterson. I'll get all wound up."

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