A former Pinellas County auto dealer is in jail for fraud

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County Judge Pat Siracusa sentenced Fred Najjar to a decade in prison and ordered him to pay more than $200,000 in restitution.

Najjar was found guilty of taking money for exchanges but never paying them back. At the sentencing hearing, half a dozen victims said what happened had ruined their lives.

Among them, Diane Marcotte said the bank hounded her for two years over a car she no longer owned. Now she can’t get a loan for any car because her credit has been ransacked.

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Other victims told the judge they were forced into bankruptcy after begging Najjar to repay their swaps.

Howard Underwood said running out of two car payments ruined his family financially and left him unable to afford appointments to treat a dental condition.

“I physically pulled my teeth out,” Underwood said.

Team I first revealed issues with Park Auto Mall in 2015. Najjar closed the dealership for good in early 2016. Two years later, detectives charged the 57-year-old with two crimes in the first degree, including a scheme to defraud and theft of state funds.

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A jury convicted the former businessman last November. During sentencing, most of the victims asked the judge to send Najjar to prison. Prosecutor Julia Rice asked for a quarter century behind bars.

Najjar’s attorney, Jay Hebert, said his client was a first-time offender and had requested less than four years. Najjar addressed the judge blaming everything that had happened on financial difficulties. He apologized saying he never meant to hurt anyone.

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Fred Najjar, the former owner of Park Auto Mall, was sentenced to a decade in prison and ordered to pay more than $200,000 in restitution.

The two-hour hearing ended with the judge addressing Najjar directly before announcing the sentence.

“The sentence I am giving you is for the damage you caused to other people’s lives at the time that continues now,” Judge Siracusa said.

Judge Siracusa sentenced Najjar to 10 years behind bars, then he will have to make restitution payments of $200 per month out of the $219,000 the court ordered to be paid to the victims. Many will probably never see a penny.

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