PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County Judge Pat Siracusa sentenced Fred Najjar to a decade in prison and ordered him to pay over $200,000 in restitution.
Najjar was convicted of taking money for trade-ins but never paying them off. During the sentencing hearing, half a dozen victims said what happened ruined their lives.
Among them, Diane Marcotte said the bank harassed her for two years over a car she no longer owned. Now she can't get a loan for any car because her credit was trashed.
Other victims told the judge they were forced into bankruptcy after begging Najjar to pay off their trade-ins.
Howard Underwood said being strapped with two car payments ruined his family financially and left him unable to afford appointments to treat dental disease.
“I have been physically pulling my own teeth,” Underwood said.
The I-team first exposed problems with Park Auto Mall in 2015. Najjar closed the dealership doors for good in early 2016. Two years later, detectives charged the 57-year-old with two first-degree felonies including scheming to defraud and theft of state funds.
- Jury convicts owner of defunct Park Auto Mall for fraud and theft
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A jury convicted the former businessman last November. At the sentencing, most of the victims asked the judge to send Najjar to prison. Prosecutor Julia Rice asked for a quarter of a century behind bars.
Najjar’s attorney Jay Hebert said his client was a first-time offender and asked for less than four years. Najjar addressed the judge blaming all that had happened on financial hardship. He apologized saying he never meant to hurt anyone.
The two-hour hearing ended with the Judge speaking directly to Najjar before announcing the sentence.
“The sentence I am giving you is for the damage you've done to other people's lives then and ongoing now,” Judge Siracusa said.
Judge Siracusa sentenced Najjar to 10 years behind bars and then he will have to make restitution payments of $200 a month toward the $219,000 the court ordered be paid to the victims. Many will likely never see a dime.