The father-and-son team who ran Montecito Motors, a high-end used-car dealership that abruptly closed in 2010 amid suspicions of criminal activity, pleaded no contest Thursday to 46 total felony charges of conspiracy, grand theft, and tax evasion, part of a plea deal that will mean lengthy prison terms for both.
Chet Taylor, 71, and his son Adam Taylor, 41, were accused of delaying and withholding payments to customers whose cars they sold out of their downtown Santa Barbara lot on consignment, then ducking the customers' calls and lying to their faces. They were also charged with forging signatures, filing false tax returns, and misleading creditors. Chet will be sentenced next month to 13 years in state prison. Adam will be sentenced to 11 years. Chet's daughter, Sarah Taylor Swing, and his wife, Jennifer Taylor, pleaded guilty to one count each of misdemeanor tax evasion and were ordered to pay restitution and fines — Sarah, around $8,000, and Jennifer, approximately $66,000.
The District Attorney's Office estimates the Taylors stole $1.2 million from 27 of their customers over a period of six or so years. At a hearing scheduled for June 21, a judge will tally what each victim is owed. Adam, the official owner of Montecito Motors, was ordered Thursday by Judge Clifford Anderson to pay the state $2.28 million in unpaid business sales tax and $2.9 million in business income tax. Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota, who prosecuted the case, said the tax evasions went as far back as 1998.
It's unlikely, however, that the state or the Taylors' customers will be paid anytime soon, explained Cota. His office — during a nearly two-year investigation with the state Franchise Tax Board and California Board of Equalization — found virtually no assets to seize. Most of the money the Taylors stole was either spent on a lavish lifestyle or sunk into at least four homes with underwater mortgages that have since been foreclosed on. The restitution payment orders will remain in place until they're satisfied, Cota explained.
Adam and Chet were also charged with a white-collar-crime enhancement, which means they'll serve their time in state prison instead of County Jail, where most offenders with nonviolent and non-sex-related crimes are housed since a new inmate placement law was passed last October. If they had chosen to take the case to trial, they would have faced prison sentences of 30 years or more. Cota said in an earlier plea agreement the father and son agreed to 12 years each, but Chet offered to take an extra year in prison so Adam's sentence would be reduced.
While the four family members remained relatively stoic throughout Thursday's hearing, Sarah sobbed silently as Cota read her brother Adam's 24 felony charges one by one. Chet, before he was led away in handcuffs, pulled out a folded stack of cash and handed it to his lawyer, who then passed the money to Jennifer. A few of the Taylors' victims were present but declined to speak to the media. They will have a chance to address the Taylors and the court at the June 21 restitution hearing.