Ferrari owner charged with

Ferrari driver Stefan Eriksson during arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court with his attorney, David A. Elden. Photos by Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

grand theft, DUI and more

Stefan Eriksson, famous for crashing an Enzo Ferrari two months ago in Malibu, is charged with seven felonies plus two misdemeanor drunk driving charges.

By Hans Laetz / Special to The Malibu Times

Amidst a swirl of complaints about a media circus from his lawyer, Swedish game company executive Stefan Eriksson remains in the Los Angeles County Jail as federal officials decide whether to add to his legal woes. The accused driver of the now-famous Enzo Ferrari destroyed two months ago in Malibu would have to post a $5.5 million bond to get out of jail, based on the seven felony charges filed by Los Angeles County prosecutors Monday.

Eriksson made his first public appearance Monday in a Los Angeles courtroom, sitting in a fluorescent orange suit, handcuffed on a bench with a dozen other miscellaneous accused criminals.

The former racecar driver was formally charged Monday with three counts each of embezzlement and grand theft, one count of illegal drug possession and one count of being a felon in possession of a gun. Prosecutors also charged him with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence of alcohol stemming from the now-infamous Malibu Ferrari crash on Feb. 21.

Prosecutors said convictions on all nine charges could be punishable by 14 years in state prison. They believe Eriksson stole the red Enzo Ferrari, a second black Enzo and a Mercedes McLaren SLR from finance companies in England, along with two other standard Mercedes cars, worth a total of $3.8 million.

Malibu Sheriff’s deputies have said the SLR was reported stolen by Eriksson in London, but Eriksson’s wife was driving it here when it was impounded by Beverly Hills Police March 26.

Just before Monday’s hearing, two teams of attorneys engaged in spirited discussions in the courtroom hallway over which one would represent Eriksson in court. David Elden, a Century City criminal defense lawyer, emerged as the attorney of record and told the judge his client was being charged with serious crimes “because the press has really blown this up all out of proportion.”

“This is really a civil matter and the courts ruled against the leasing company back in England, and we’ll get that all straightened out,” Elden told Judge Mary Strobel.

Elden argued against the $5.5 million bail as excessive, and his associate, Andrew Flier, later said he had several accused murderers awaiting trial with smaller bails.

But prosecutor Tamara Hall noted that Eriksson was arrested last week as he was making plans to flee the country, with a plane ticket to the United Kingdom among items seized.

“In addition, he fled the scene of the Malibu accident after he initially denied any part in driving [the Ferrari], but then he later admitted he was the driver to police.”

Elden was unsuccessful in reducing the bail and in ousting news photographers from the public courtroom. He said the gun found in Eriksson’s house “belonged to an off-duty Orange County sheriff’s deputy who was there [at the house], and she indicated that it was hers and not his.”

Eriksson has frequently used off-duty or former police officers as security, and deputies said they believe the two men who showed up at the Malibu crash site claiming to be Department of Homeland Security officers may have been part of Eriksson’s security group.

In the courtroom Monday, prosecutors took the unusual step of publicly releasing Eriksson’s criminal record from Sweden, which dates back to 1988 and includes three separate trials and verdicts. The rap sheet, translated to English, includes convictions on assault, conspiracy to kidnap, counterfeiting, domestic violence, possession of illegal drugs and weapons charges, and included three separate terms of three, five, and five and a half years.

But prosecutors would not answer questions about Eriksson’s wife, Nicole Persson, who has not been charged. One lingering question is why she drove his unique, well-known Mercedes show car to an intersection in downtown Beverly Hills where exotic car fans congregate on Sundays, and then circled the block three times.

Her action drew the attention of police, caused the confiscation of the SLR, and escalated pending misdemeanor DUI cases against her husband into serious felonies. Persson was in the courtroom Monday, but two burly men flanking her would not allow reporters to talk to her.

Eriksson has become a minor tabloid sensation after pictures of the wrecked Ferrari were published around the world after the crash two months ago. He had been driving an estimated 162 mph on Pacific Coast Highway when he lost control of the car, which shattered against a power pole before the passenger cage and engine both twirled several hundred yards down the highway.

Eriksson’s legal woes do not end with the state charges. He could face additional counts in federal court starting with immigration charges and possibly extending into the collapse of the game company Gizmondo, a $300 million business failure that may be prosecutable under U.S. laws. Eriksson had risen to a director of the company, and represented it while racing Formula One cars at company expense in Europe.

Prosecutors in Britain have also expressed interest in Eriksson’s dealings there.

Eriksson, known as “Fat Steven” to the Swedish newspapers covering his arrest, will be in court next on April 24 for another bail reduction hearing.