A former Miramar car dealer accused of cheating customers appeared in state court Thursday for the first time.
Four years after the first complaints of theft and financial fraud, John Mussari was formally charged with 16 felonies.
NBC 7 Investigates first revealed customer complaints about Mussari and his high-end car dealership, Mussari Motors, in November, 2011.
At Thursday’s arraignment, prosecutor John Philpott said Mussari took pre-owned Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Mercedes on consignment, sold single cars to multiple buyers, never paid the original owner, and defrauded finance companies and banks.
Philpott said Mussari sometimes kept angry creditors and customers off his back by giving them small, partial re-payments.
"But essentially it was a just a fraudulent Ponzi scheme," Philpott told Judge David Szumowski.
The prosecutor said Mussari is a flight risk and danger to the community, and urged the judge to set bail at $250,000.
He also revealed new information about Mussari’s troubles with the law.
“He is a target of a federal investigation that involves money laundering and drug trafficking proceeds. He is an official target. He is aware of that, and the U.S. Attorney will soon be acting on that,” said Philpott.
But Mussari's lawyer, Anthony Colombo, told NBC 7 that the federal investigation has dragged on for years, with no charges.
Colombo argued for a lower bail amount, telling the judge that Mussari has met voluntarily with DMV investigators to discuss the state fraud complaints, and voluntarily surrendered his vehicle dealer's license.
But our investigation revealed that Mussari’s dealer’s license was revoked because he abandoned his dealership.
Colombo also urged the public to remember that the grand theft and bounced check charges are, at this time, unproven allegations made by prosecutors.
“They're based solely on this one-sided investigation and statements by the parties in the complaint,” Colombo told NBC 7. “There is another side to this story and we look forward to addressing those issues at the appropriate time in court."
But one alleged victim doubts he will ever get his money back.
David Baker says Mussari owes him $50,000 on an investment they made on a Lamborghini Gallardo.
But Baker, who was in court for today’s arraignment, was happy to see Mussari leave the court in handcuffs.
"I mean, I felt a little relieved that at least there's some degree of justice out there,” Baker said. “The man's been at least brought to court and we'll see what happens."
The judge set bail at $100,000, and Mussari’s lawyer predicted his client will be out of jail in a few hours.
Though Mussari no longer has a DMV dealer's license, it was revealed in court that he is still working in the car business, as the office manager for Diamond Motors.
His next court date is scheduled for March 11.