Car "Restorer" Gets Jail, Probation, Restitution Order for Ripping Off Charity

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A 60-year-old Costa Mesa man pleaded guilty today to two felony counts of grand theft and was sentenced to 270 days in jail and three years probation in a bizarre cases involving a Ford Mustang collector's car he promised to restore for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation nonprofit for women, including pregnant women and teens.

Steven John Lafata in 2007 promised to use $35,000 from New Directions for Women to purchase and restore to collector car quality a 1988 Ford Mustang Cobra prototype, which the charity could then raffle off for between $65,000 and $75,000.

But Lafata instead acquired a 1989 Ford Mustang appraised at $8,300 and only performed minimal work on the car. When the charity raffle winner went to pick up the "Cobra" and complained that was not the promised car, the Orange County Sheriff's Department investigated, the Orange County District Attorney Major Fraud Unit whipped up charges, and Lafata was facing up to four years and four months in state prison if convicted.

In addition to the jail time and probation, Lafata was ordered to cough up $37,000 in restitution to help cover the theft from the nonprofit and cost of civil litigation.

But the charity was not Lafata's only victim. He filed false information with the DMV claiming the car cost him $750 to avoid registration fees. Under today's sentence, Lafata must re-pay the DMV $750.

On the bright side, he won't have to wait in a DMV line to do so.



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