Car salesmen accused of bilking mentally ill man
On a Saturday morning last July, salesmen at Huling Brothers Auto Center in West Seattle allegedly hatched a plot to steal $100,000 from...
Seattle Times staff reporters
On a Saturday morning last July, salesmen at Huling Brothers Auto Center in West Seattle allegedly hatched a plot to steal $100,000 from a mentally ill customer, according to a detailed police affidavit released Friday.
The day before, prosecutors allege, the salesmen sold a fully loaded truck to the customer, who'd come in wearing feces-stained pants and boasting of having a dresser drawer full of cash.
Over the next week, police said, six salesmen rifled through the man's apartment, hunting for $70,000 the man kept in a plastic sack in his dresser. After being beaten to the cash by co-workers, one salesman managed to steal the man's new $30,000 truck by getting him to sign over ownership while the man was in Harborview Medical Center's psychiatric ward, according to charging papers.
Two Huling salesmen — Ted E. Coxwell, 39, and Paul R. Rimbey, 39, and their sales manager, Adrian G. Dillard, 32 — were charged this week with exploiting the mentally ill man and stealing what amounted to his life savings. Police say eight other Huling employees are under investigation for participating in the theft and possible cover-up.
Steve Huling, who owned the dealership until two weeks ago, refunded the man's truck purchase when he learned about the victim several months ago.
"I'm a reputable person. I hired the people who hired the people" who are accused, Huling said. "We've been there for 60 years. I feel terrible for this man."
The Huling dealership was sold to Spokane-based Gee Auto Group on Jan. 5.
Adrian "A.G." Dillard 32, Normandy Park
Dillard was a sales manager for Huling Brothers. Police say he armed himself with a gun and, along with Coxwell, burglarized the victim's apartment on July 22. Dillard is charged with burglary, theft and money-laundering. Dillard is accused of using $20,791.50 of the $70,000 stolen to pay off credit cards.
Ted E. Coxwell 39, Edmonds
Coxwell was a salesman for Huling. Police say he stole $70,000 from the victim's apartment while Dillard stood guard. Coxwell is charged with burglary and theft. He allegedly paid off debts with some of the money, including a car loan to Huling, according to police and prosecutors.
Paul R. Rimbey 39, Seattle
Rimbey was a salesman for Huling. Rimbey is charged with theft. Police say he tried to steal the $70,000 from the victim's apartment, but got there after the money had already been taken. He is accused of stealing the victim's truck while the victim was held at Harborview's psychiatric ward.
The victim, who is currently at Western State Hospital, is not being named by the Seattle Times because of his vulnerability. Although the amount of money stolen from him was unusual, the pattern of exploitation is familiar, said Eleanor Owen, a board member of the greater Seattle and state National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
"Quite honestly, I'm pleased the people at the car dealership are being held accountable here," she said.
The 60-year-old man lived with his mother for more than 30 years. She paid the bills, cooked his meals, and looked after the details of their lives, said Abdi Farah, 25, manager for Lam Bow Apartments, where the man lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his mother for nearly 11 years.
"The minute you meet the guy, you can see he was mentally disturbed," Farah said.
It's unclear how the man came into so much cash. He claimed to have $80,000 in his apartment, yet didn't lock his door when he left, according to the man's cousin, who lived in the same apartment complex and asked that her name not be used. The cousin assumed the man had been saving his federal disability checks, and that he didn't want to risk losing a housing subsidy by putting it in the bank. He told others he'd inherited the money.
Eight months ago, the man's mother, suffering from Alzheimer's, moved to an adult-care facility, and his behavior started to deteriorate. He began drinking, Farah said, and fouling his apartment with urine and feces.
Every morning at 6:15, the man — wearing the same short-sleeved blue T-shirt and pants — would stand in the street and howl like a wolf for 10 or 15 minutes, sometimes longer, Farah said. When the man walked into the West Seattle car dealership on July 21, employees didn't take him seriously — at least not until he said he could make his purchase in cash, said Seattle police. An employee agreed to take the man back to his apartment, and during the short drive, the man talked about his inheritance, according to police affidavits.
The State Patrol said the Huling Bros. salesmen charged the man full sticker price and sold him the most expensive warranty for the GMC Canyon pickup. The dealership could have easily knocked the truck down a few thousand dollars, investigators said.
"It's almost unbelievable someone would take advantage of a disabled person. Where's the human decency?" said an undercover Washington State Patrol detective who investigated the case with Seattle police.
Back at Huling Bros., the employee told co-workers about the man's stash of money, police said.
The next morning, at a sales-staff breakfast meeting, Dillard, the sales manager, told others about his dream to start a company to rescue failing dealerships, according to court charging documents. Then, they allegedly talked about stealing from the mentally ill man.
Some of the men even drove by the man's apartment after the meeting, police say.
An opportunity presented itself when the man returned to the dealership later that same day, saying he couldn't find his new truck, charging papers said.
While two employees drove the man to a Mercer Island impound lot, police said, Dillard and Coxwell went to the man's subsidized apartment and stole his money. Later, four other salesmen, unaware that the money was gone, scoured the apartment in search of cash, police said. They left with only a few dollars, according to court papers.
One of the men told investigators that several of them stood on a roof of the dealership and concocted the plan, according to charging papers. Dillard gave them gloves and sunglasses to wear during the burglary, the papers said. The papers also said one man who entered the apartment told police that he wore gloves, a hat and sunglasses.
On July 27, the mentally ill man called Seattle police to report his stolen money and missing truck, which had been impounded again, charging papers said. After taking one look at the feces piled in each room of the man's apartment, the officer called for an ambulance and had him committed to Harborview.
Within weeks, the man called Huling Bros. and talked to Rimbey about how he was afraid his truck would be auctioned off.
On Aug. 28, Rimbey allegedly showed up at the hospital with a contract that ordered the man to sign over his truck, pay the impound fee and give Rimbey a $300 service charge.
A notary public at the hospital signed off on it, even though the man was being evaluated for psychiatric problems, police said.
A hospital spokeswoman said Friday that the hospital is taking another look at its procedures for notary publics handling documents for psychiatric patients.
About a week later, two other Huling Bros. employees returned to the apartment, only to find that the man had been evicted, police reports said.
The Washington State Patrol said it notified Seattle police about what happened to the man after one of the 11 people believed to have participated in the theft scheme came forward. The former employee, who was being investigated by the Patrol for allegedly writing a fraudulent loan for a BMW he sold himself from the dealership, said he felt bad about what had happened to the mentally ill man, said the undercover State Patrol detective.
Cline Davis, the president of Huling's new owner, Gee Auto Group, said he was blindsided by the charges. The only inkling he had of them came two weeks ago, when Huling briefly mentioned that a former salesman would be indicted, but that Huling had compensated the victim.
"People are angry and cursing, and saying, 'We'll never come back,' " Davis said. "It's escalated to this huge mushroom cloud, and now I'm trying to do damage control."
A spokesman for the Washington State Department of Licensing said the department will be reviewing the criminal case to determine if action against the dealership is needed. Even though Huling has been sold, the new owners could be penalized, he said.
To Farah, the victim's former apartment manger, it's hard to overstate the victim's vulnerability.
"At first, I thought, 'What kind of person would sell a car [to him]?' You could see the guy wasn't there."
Seattle Times researcher Miyoko Wolf and reporters Justin Mayo and Natalie Singer contributed
to this report.
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