The last time Adam and Chet Taylor appeared in court they were dressed in sharp suits and accompanied by family members. On Thursday afternoon they entered Judge Clifford Anderson's courtroom in shackles and jail garb, their only support coming from their attorneys. By the end of the short hearing, Anderson had ordered the Taylors to prison for more than a decade and to pay millions of dollars in restitution.
The Taylors — son Adam, and father Chet — pleaded no contest last month to 46 felony charges of conspiracy, grand theft, and tax evasion linked to their operation of Montecito Motors, a high-end used car dealership that, for at least a decade before it closed in 2010, was used as home base for a series of white collar crimes. The District Attorney's Office estimates they stole approximately $1.2 million from 26 clients by selling their cars off the Chapala Street lot then not paying the victims by forging title signatures, filing false tax returns, and misleading creditors.
Adam, 41, was sentenced to 11 years in state prison. Chet, 71, struck a deal with prosecutors to take a year of Adam's sentence and was given 13 years. The official owner of Montecito Motors, Adam was also ordered pay the state $2.3 million in unpaid sales tax and more than $3 million in income tax. The tax evasions, according to court records, went as far back as 1998, which doesn't align with an argument often made on behalf of the Taylors: that they only started their misdealing to keep their business afloat after the economy tanked in 2008.
Also presented Thursday was an assignment of blame different from what has been said in open court and in private interviews. While many of the Taylors' victims saw Chet as the most culpable in the Montecito Motors scheme, Larry Gordon said Adam was the true mastermind. Gordon — who provided Adam a $327,000 line of credit collateralized by car titles, but lost it all when the business closed — submitted a statement to the court that was read aloud by Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota.
Gordon said he met Adam 12 years ago and “was fooled into thinking he was a trustworthy man with whom I could do business.” Adam told Gordon that Montecito Motors was his and that he handled most of its sales, striking a deal for the credit line. After he continually wasn't provided paperwork on car titles and sales, Gordon said he tried more than once to revoke his credit, but that Adam would become teary-eyed and say that such a move would mean the end of Montecito Motors. He promised Gordon to provide the documentation, but there was always some “bogus” excuse. “He is a good actor,” Gordon's statement read. “I was gullible and naïve.”
Gordon claimed that Adam used his $327,000 “to buy a house for himself. ... He used it to live the good life.” Gordon said he never trusted Chet and should have realized “acorns do not fall very far from the tree.” Their sentences aren't long enough, he went on, saying “both have criminal minds” and are “liars and cheaters.”
Of who is most at fault, Gordon wrote: “Adam can act like the good guy. He can tell you that it was all his father. Not true. Adam was the instigator.” Gordon also asked the court to send them to a high-security prison, not the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, which he called “a white collar lock-up.” He concluded: “Adam is not a white collar criminal. He is as tough and hardened criminal as you will find.”
It appeared a few other of the Taylors' victims were in the courtroom Thursday, but no one spoke. A number of their statements were provided to the court during the sentencing phase. While the Taylors are off to prison, their attorneys and Cota will continue to work out the exact amount each victim is owned, and may appear back in court in the coming weeks to finalize numbers.