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Car dealer must pay $15-million

Five Broward County firms of a Toyota wholesaler have been ordered to pay up to $15-million in damages by a South Carolina jury that heard charges they used illegal pressure tactics that drove up car costs.

"The jury found a pattern of racketeering through fraud and extortion," Kenneth Baker, an attorney for the plaintiff, Toyota of Florence, S.C., told the Miami Herald in a story Monday. The jury action was Sunday, the newspaper said.

A spokeswoman for Broward-based wholesaler and millionaire Jim Moran said the verdict would be challenged. Moran's flagship, Southeast Toyota Distributors, wholesales new Toyotas in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

The case, filed in Darlington, S.C., County Court of Common Pleas, is the first of a dozen lawsuits to come to trial alleging that Moran's Deerfield Beach-based companies padded the prices of Toyotas at the expense of consumers and auto dealerships.

The South Carolina lawsuit, like others filed by car dealers in five states, accused Moran companies of threatening to curb supplies of popular Toyota models from Southeast Toyota if dealers didn't steer business to Moran-controlled companies. Those companies sell Toyota financing, leasing, insurance and marketing as well as consumer warranties, car rustproofing and auto accessories.

Consumers, the dealers allege, ended up paying for unwanted extras that added hundreds of dollars to the price of new automobiles.