Felony charges vanish in Scottsdale car-dealership case

Local and federal authorities descended on a Scottsdale auto dealership in a raid last year. As television cameras rolled, arrests were made, cars were seized, boxes of evidence were loaded onto trucks and crime-scene tape was strung up along the perimeter.

Luxor Auto Group owners Hamid and Saeid Salari were charged with money laundering, conspiracy and currency-violation charges. They were accused of using the dealership to front cash purchases of cars for drug traffickers. A third man, Farah Isaac, who owns a jewelry store and worked with the Salaris, was arrested on similar charges.

By last month, nearly all of the charges against the men had disappeared. Gone were accusations of money laundering, or claims they engaged in a conspiracy, or allegations they took cash from drug dealers. The government’s case was reduced to one misdemeanor each.

The Salaris and Isaac pleaded guilty to not reporting a financial transaction in excess of $10,000. The actual charge: “Failure to file Form 8300.”

The damage to their reputation and business has proven much more lasting than the charges. In a brief interview last week, Hamid Salari said he had no choice but to close the dealership and get out of the car business.

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He said the charges and the media spectacle of the raid were too much to overcome. Hamid was reluctant to delve into details, saying the court case was ongoing. He said he and his brother “made a mistake” and are trying to rebuild their lives.

“I would hate to see what happened to me happen to other people,” Hamid said. “I want my story to be known. … We didn’t do anything they accused me of.”

Officials with the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, which spearheaded the 2014 raid, declined to comment on the case last month.

According the court documents, an undercover agent posing as an ecstasy dealer met with Saeid Salari in 2013 and offered him $10,000 cash to buy a car without reporting the sale or registering his name on the transaction.

Undercover agents returned to the Scottsdale Road dealership several months later and offered to buy a second car, this time for $80,000. Authorities said Hamid Salari suggested using a third party to conceal the ownership of the vehicle, and the agent left $20,000 cash in a Crown Royal Scotch bag as a down payment.

Authorities said when agents delivered the rest of the payment in December, they noted a display case in the business advertising Isaac Jewelry. Authorities said Hamid Salari told them Isaac was a friend and would be willing to exchange jewelry for up to $30,000 cash.

In court documents, authorities said agents claiming to be drug dealers used cash to buy jewelry from Isaac, who did not report the transactions.

Agents returned one final time before the April 2014 raid. Agents offered Hamid Salari $200,000 in cash for another vehicle purchase and cash for more jewelry from Isaac, according to the complaint.

The Salaris and Isaac were released on their own recognizance, meaning they did not have to post bail. Records show none of the men had any criminal records before the 2014 raid.

The Salaris have, however, run afoul of Arizona regulators.

Phoenix sued Hamid Salari and the Luxor Auto Group in July 2013 after police seized a Mercedes R350 from the Scottsdale dealership. The car had an altered vehicle identification number and was stolen from GEM Limousine Service in Phoenix in May 2012, according to court records.

The Arizona Department of Financial Institutions ordered Hamid Salari to suspend operations in 2011 after department investigators found Luxor was not licensed to sell motor vehicles or act as a sales finance company in Arizona. Hamid Salari agreed to pay $10,000 in civil penalties and obtain permits.

Corporation records show the Salari’s have been involved in more than a dozen Arizona businesses, including auto shops, dental offices and a nightclub. Since closing Luxor, Hamid is concentrating on starting a new Scottsdale business on McDowell Road selling custom patio furniture.

“You want to know what put me out of business?” Hamid said. “The major blow was the media. The media, at the end of the day, put me out of business more than anything else.”

Hamid, who is a single father of two sons, said news stories focused on the allegations against him but didn’t provide any context about him, his brother or Isaac. He said being accused of crimes and going through the justice system was a humbling experience.

“I am an American. I’ve lived here for 30 years,” he said. “I’ll die for this country. I lost my business … But really, however, bad it was for me, it is done and over. I made a deal. It’s over.”

A charge of failing to report a financial transaction carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

A judge last month sentenced Isaac to time served. The judge fined Isaac $25 and then waived it.

The Salaris are scheduled to be sentenced in July.

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2015/05/08/felony-charges-vanish-scottsdale-car-dealership-case/27008815/