Three felons, one dealership, over a million dollars in debt

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I’m Ethan. Nice to meet you. I sold drugs and did various other crimes as a young adult, but I let it go so I could sell cars to North Carolina’s finest criminals. That S550 on Forgiatos in front of a housing project? I sold it. Your weed man just pulled up in a $60,000 QX80? Money in my pocket. That 7-Series blowing out blue smoke near a luxury shopping mall? It was me. This is a deep game—and the game is sold, not told.

Episode 6: Out with the wild blue Rangie

Best Coast Motorsports was fun while it lasted. It’s nearly been five years since I stepped away from the best and worst thing I’ve ever been involved in. We had more than our share of good times. Some days I was sitting on a million-plus dollars’ worth of highline inventory; other days I earned thousands of dollars in ten-minute deals. There was just one major problem, and it was this: I knew nothing of how the business really worked until it all came crashing down.

Throughout this series, I don’t think I’ve even come close to showing how terrible my “friends” Gerald and Tom really were. They were both felons with larceny in their hearts. Their sheer amorality shocked me again and again, even though I’ve got a bit of a major-label rap sheet myself. Gerald was the worse of the pair, but sometimes you couldn’t help but love the guy. His father certainly loved him, which is how we all came to be in this particular game to begin with.

Gerald’s dad owned a few restaurants. Did a good job with them. Made some money. Bought some nice stuff. But he couldn’t afford his son’s bad habits. The worst of those habits: running “simple card games” that the federal government viewed as “simple racketeering.” They wanted to put him under the penitentiary. Gerald’s dad spent his savings getting the damage trimmed down to eight years. When my pal saw the sunlight again, he wasted no time getting back to his dad’s front door—not to thank you, but to open the tap yet again on his unlimited line of parental credit.

Now, Gerald’s father was no dummy. He knew his son wasn’t the next Roger Penske—but the boy’s idea of running a car dealership seemed a lot less likely to attract more federal attention than any of his other potential avenues of self-employment. So one day Gerald’s father agreed to give him the money and credit line to open the dealership of his dreams, and Best Coast Motorsports was born. Gerald spent the money, and he spent the credit, too. He wasn’t what you’d call a natural legitimate businessman. Dad got a lot of margin calls, some of which had more urgency than others. Word spread around the, ahem, underbelly of society about the condition of the business, eventually hitting the ears of this dude Tom who wasted no time meeting up with Gerald’s dad to devise a plan for fixing the business.

Meanwhile I’d been, ah, between criminal enterprises myself, serving as a kind of broker between Gerald and various friends who were still in the dope game. So when Tom started inserting himself into Gerald’s business, it was only natural that we’d meet. He liked the cut of my jib and my bargaining skills. Asked me if I’d like an opportunity to do this for a living, as a partner in the dealership. I didn’t even hesitate, and asked where to wire my buy-in. I was sitting on a lot of cash with no natural home, you see. This was as good a place as any for it.

Everything was fine in the beginning.We grew the inventory from 10 slow-selling enthusiast vehicles (think Corvette, 911) to an inventory of over 80 attention-getting highline vehicles (think S-Class, Range Rover). Tom and I managed to make profits appear fairly quickly. We did a lot of volume.

In a perfect world, Gerald would have thanked us for giving him a second chance to succeed in what was already a second chance to begin with. But this ain’t no fairytale, as Morgan Freeman would say. We’d fixed the man’s business, but in his personal life Gerald was accumulating debts faster than he could pay them. This situation was bound to bleed over… and it did.

We were sitting on what had been an impulse auction buy for me: a 2007 Cairns Blue Range Rover Sport. Gerald had a friend to whom he owed money, like pretty much every other human being he’s ever known. We’ll call him Tyson. This story begins after this lofty blue baby Range had sat around for a couple of months. It was an interesting piece, great colour, Borla exhaust, RSC supercharger pulley, and ECU tune. Unfortunately, there was a smattering of visible rust on the steel ladder frame. In the Northeast that’s business as usual; down South it’s poison.

Tyson called the shop. Gerald turned pale and disappeared into the office. When he emerged he went straight out to the wild blue Rangie and drove off. He came half an hour later having obviously washed and prepped the vehicle a bit. Gerald retreated to his office. Tom and I immediately went to find out what was happening.

I’ve already gone over how Gerald controlled the business previous to the partnership put on paper between us. The mistake we made was initially leaving him in charge of the dealership’s bank activity and floorplan. Gerald gave us a roundabout answer about the Rover, simply stating his friend Tyson was buying it. But after some pressing he told us he was “selling” it to him in exchange for some debt forgiveness. Before we could fully lay into him on this topic, three not-very-well-dressed black dudes from the Bronx hopped out of a rusted out mid-’90’s Oldsmobile Cutlass. One of the men, dressed in an outfit 50 Cent would accessorize with a bulletproof vest, walked in. He introduced himself to Jason as Tyson. He walked into the office and made our acquaintance as well. The man just bristled with menace. Would have killed us then settled down to a steak dinner without a care in his heart.

We excused ourselves while Gerald finalised everything and slapped a 30-day plate on the car. Tyson left with a crooked smile on his scarred face, then Tom and I immediately hemmed Gerald up in his office. He swore he would pay us back and he’d make sure it wouldn’t affect the business. “It’ll be off our floorplan in 15 days,” he declared.

Five months later—you guessed it—that Rover was still on the bank list. Which also means he’d never registered the car to Tyson. Tom and I did some ad-hoc unionizing and forced Gerald to pay the note, probably by making some other shady loan. Cue the return of Tyson, who has been treating this British luxury car like a borough taxi up in New York. “I need to trade this in on a Quattroporte,” he told us.

“How much down payment you got?” Tom asked.

“Talk to your boy,” Tyson snarled. Cue the departure of one Maserati from the showroom (but not the floorplan), and the return of one rusted Range Rover, now showing the signs of five months’ NYC-based neglect and abuse.

After this sort of thing happened a few more times, I decided to ask for my equity back. Needless to say, Gerald’s magic wand had made it all disappear. Tom jumped ship before me and ran off to New Jersey to run a dealership with one of his friends, and basically left me at the helm of a sinking ship since Gerald barely ever worked anyway.

Later in 2015, I realized that I was spending a lot of money and time chasing money and time I’d already wasted. That will get you in trouble, whether you’re Sherman McCoy in a Tom Wolfe book or Ethan Gaines in a Charlotte-area used-car shop. So I abandoned my stake and hit the road. The day I left Gerald came to me with a whole convoluted plan to stay alive by selling the dealership’s property and moving to an even worse location on a rental basis. I told him I wasn’t going to stick around long enough to see if it worked.

You can imagine my amazement when Gerald turned the whole thing around, paid off his father, and was named the North Carolina Entrepreneur of the year just eighteen months later. Actually, you’d have to imagine it, since that’s not the way it happened at all.

I saw Gerald about a year after I walked out from Best Coast Motorsports. I was sitting at a Greek cafe we’d both liked to frequent in prior years. As we sat on the patio and I enjoyed the frappe that he purchased, he let me know what his situation was.

“Yeah man, I owe my dad 1.5 million dollars. I told him I’ll work at the restaurant for 20 years and I’ll be clear of all my debt.”

I stared at him flabbergasted and took a quick sip from my frappe before replying:

“You say this like it’s okay.”

“Bro, what the *** else am I supposed to do?”

I sipped my frappe again. Shrugged. I had left Gerald’s troubles behind me, My own were just beginning. That was one of the last fancy coffees I’d drink as a free man—but that’s a story for another time.

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