LOS ANGELES. - Former top Ferrari broker Michael Sheehan never thought he would find himself in the kind of legal troubles he is in today.
The man who peddled the most expensive vintage Ferrari ever sold - a classic GTO at $13.75 million - placed his Costa Mesa company, European Auto Sales and Restoration Inc., into bankruptcy last March.
Meanwhile, two civil fraud lawsuits against him are pending, and he has yet to settle another one.
Sheehan's legal troubles began after global Ferrari prices surged in the late 1980s, then crashed in the early 1990s.
After the market collapse, several wealthy car collectors claimed heavy financial damages; they alleged they had been cheated.
Criminal complaints were filed, and Sheehan's house was raided by police in the course of the investigation.
Sheehan, 47, denies the allegations. 'It was totally unethical,' he said. 'It was totally immoral. They lied, they lied.'
One case involved Japanese millionaire Yoshikuni Okamoto, who in 1990 paid Sheehan $820,000 for a 1962 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta. Three years later, Okamoto filed a civil fraud suit, claiming he spent $170,000 for European Auto to restore the car, with little result. As he waited, the car's market value fell until it bottomed at less than what he had paid for it.
In 1995, restaurateur Yoji Oyama filed a similar complaint against European Auto. Oyama said he paid $375,000 for a 1950 Ferrari roadster and nearly $200,000 more for restoration. But after six years, the company had not completed the job.
Then Hong Kong collector Michael Mak sued, alleging he paid Sheehan $582,000 for a 1965 Ford GT40 race car, but instead received a replica built from the scraps of the original.
Okamoto won a settlement last August for less than half his attorney's fees. The other cases are pending.
And other legal issues remain, including a claim by European Auto's bankruptcy court trustee that Sheehan laundered funds before the bankruptcy, an allegation Sheehan denies. But he has been cleared of any criminal fraud charges.
'If I could do it all over again I would do it differently,' Sheehan said.
'Because what I've been through has been emotionally, financially, devastating.'