Archive for Sunday, September 25, 2005

Hollywood interested in ‘Miracle Cars’ scheme

Prosecutors don’t want convict to profit

September 25, 2005

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— Hollywood wants to make a movie about a nationwide conspiracy to defraud people who were told they would get bargain prices on vehicles as a reward for their religious faith.

That attracted the attention of federal prosecutors, who don't want 30-year-old Robert Gomez to profit from his role in the "Miracle Cars" scheme.

The former California man was sentenced in December 2003 to nearly 22 years in federal prison without parole. He also was ordered to pay $12.5 million in restitution.

The scheme surfaced in the fall of 1998 in California, then spread across the country. Victims were told a wealthy man named John Bowers had left a $400 million estate that was selling vehicles for as little as $1,000 to people with strong religious faith. Word about the purported deals circulated through grass-roots Christian networks.

Among the defendants were Gomez and James Nichols, two California security guards accused of selling the nonexistent cars. Gomez, a professional gambler, allegedly claimed to be the adopted son of Bowers and sole heir to the estate, while Nichols allegedly claimed to be the executor of the estate.

The scheme is now the subject of "God Wants You To Roll: The $21 Million 'Miracle Cars' Scam - How Two Boys Fleeced America's Churchgoers."

Not long after the book by Car and Driver magazine editor-at-large John Phillips III was released in March, studio New Line Cinema and production company Grade A Entertainment in Los Angeles announced plans to produce a comedy based on the men's exploits.

Federal prosecutors in Kansas City, where the case was handled, learned that Grade A Entertainment agreed to pay $2,000 for an option on Gomez's life story and $35,000 if the movie actually were made. No such agreement exists for Nichols, said prosecutor J. Daniel Stewart.

Prosecutors this week asked a judge for two writs of garnishments, one for Grade A Entertainment and the other for a man who authorities believe acted as a "consultant" and received an initial $2,000 payment meant for Gomez.

Gomez's lawyer, Bruce Simon, of Kansas City, said he was reviewing the garnishment action but would urge his client to focus on appealing his sentence.

"If this movie gets made, which I doubt, and then gets distributed, which is another hurdle, then there could be some money," Simon said. "But it's all pretty pie-in-the-sky."

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