A former buyer's agent was sentenced to more than seven years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to dealers, consumers and others that he bilked out of about $1.5 million in vehicles and cash.
Leslie Merz operated a car-buying service known as The Perfect Car Connection in Tacoma, Wash., from 1988 until May 1995. On May 16, a federal judge:
Sentenced Merz to 87 months in prison;
Ordered him to pay $1.2 million, and;
Ordered him placed on supervised release for five years after he serves his prison sentence.
The $1.2 million in restitution, to the extent that Merz can pay it, will be distributed among the victims.
Merz was convicted of 31 counts of fraud and money laundering on Feb. 11. He was found guilty of taking $540,000 from consumers for vehicles that were never delivered and scamming dealers out of vehicles valued at $165,000.
Also, he was convicted of obtaining $500,000 in fraudulent loans from a bank and stealing $350,000 in state sales and luxury taxes.
Merz bought and sold cars involving dealers and consumers in Alaska, California, Idaho, Illinois, Oregon and Washington.
Merz could have been sentenced to up to 30 years.
Kurt Hermanns, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, said Merz was sentenced within the federal sentencing guidelines and he is pleased with the outcome.
Said Hermanns: 'He represented himself as a buyer's agent, but he was operating as a full-service dealer.'