The former owner of a luxury car dealership in San Diego now admits he took more than $700,000 in cash from a customer who prosecutors say was a multi-state drug trafficker and failed to report those cash transactions to the federal government, as required by law.
John Mussari Jr. has been the subject of several NBC 7 Investigates stories.
In April, Mussari admitted to defrauding Mussari Motors clients of more than $200,000.
Some of those angry customers said they paid Mussari for high-end vehicles, including Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches, but never got the pink-slips that proved they owned the car.
In April, Mussari pleaded guilty to eight felonies. He recently finished a brief term in county jail and is now on probation and enrolled in a work-furlough program. Mussari’s lawyer told NBC 7 Investigates that his client has repaid approximately $150,000 to his victims and promises to pay another $70,000 in restitution.
But if Mussari can’t pay back that money by December, his victims may have to wait years for their cash.
That’s because on Thursday, Mussari pleaded guilty to evading the federal cash transaction law.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Walker Hobson said Mussari failed to report $719,000 in cash from a convicted drug dealer in a series of illegal transactions during the fall and winter of 2008.
“The drug trafficker in this case purchased two Lamborghinis, a Porsche and a Ferrari during the 4-month period,” Walker-Hobson told NBC 7 Investigates. “The drug trafficker also gave John Mussari substantial cash for an investment scheme.”
Court documents reveal that federal agents first detained Mussari when he tried to leave the drug dealer’s home in Fallbrook. Agents found $205,000 in cash inside the Lamborghini he was driving that night.
That evidence was among the information provided to a grand jury, which issued a four-count federal indictment against him last November.
Thursday’s plea deal means Mussari will not be prosecuted on three of those counts, including conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to engage in monetary transactions with property derived from unlawful activity.
He instead pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiring to evade currency reporting laws.
In an exclusive interview after Thursday’s hearing, Mussari’s attorney told NBC 7 his client did not -- and will not -- admit that he knew the customer was a drug dealer.
Attorney Anthony Colombo also said his client is “committed to turning his life around and making amends for the mistakes that he made back in 2008 through 2010, during the financial crisis, that led to the decisions he made to try to save his business.”
Mussari faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced on Dec. 5.
Prosecutor Walker-Hobson told NBC 7 Investigates she will recommend a 30-month prison term, but the sentencing judge could overrule that recommendation and send Mussari to prison for a longer term.