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Ex-employees charged with defrauding Clearwater car dealership of $400,000

Three people were arrested Thursday on charges of defrauding their former employer, a Clearwater car dealership, out of about $400,000 in 2012.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the trio wrote checks on Lokey Automotive accounts for marketing and mailing services from an off-site marketing firm two of the three created just for the purpose of receiving the money. None of the services paid for were rendered.

After Lokey notified authorities, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Economic Crimes Unit conducted a two-month investigation, which led to Wednesday's arrests.

Lokey declined to comment.

Former Lokey general manager James Surrett, 45, of Orlando turned himself in on Thursday. Former Lokey sales manager Larry Dubose, 39, of Tarpon Springs was arrested Thursday in Pasco County. Former controller Patricia Lipka, 51, of Fort Myers was arrested Thursday in Lee County.

All three worked at Lokey in 2012, but it was unclear when they began and ended their employment there.

They are each being held on $500,000 bond.

Dubose and Lipka were arrested at car dealerships — Dubose at Sun Toyota in Holiday where he now works, and Lipka at Sutherlin Nissan in Fort Myers. It is unclear if Lipka works at Sutherlin.

Arrest records show Napleton Automotive Group, a multi-state dealership conglomerate based near Chicago, employs Surrett.

Napleton did not return calls; Sun and Sutherlin both declined to comment.

All are charged with scheme to defraud. If convicted, they could face up to 30 years in prison for committing a class-one felony, though the sentencing guidelines normally call for a lesser sentence.

Staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report. Josh Solomon can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or jsolomon@tampabay.com.

Ex-employees charged with defrauding Clearwater car dealership of $400,000 03/07/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 9:38pm]
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