Owner of Civics Reborn gets tougher sentence in car swindle

Friday, January 09, 2015

A Hennepin County District Court judge nearly threw out a plea agreement Friday against Zachary Moore and the scam he ran with his Civics Reborn car business, but ultimately approved it with changes.

Judge Pam Alexander sentenced Moore to 10 years of probation with 68 months in prison hanging over him if he violates the conditions of his probation. But instead of serving 10 days in the county workhouse every year for 10 years, Alexander got Moore to agree to her condition of serving all 100 days immediately.

She also ordered him to pay restitution to 36 victims. The total bill is $250,000, which must be paid during those 10 years.

“This was an example of where we took what looked like just a poor business operation and after an excellent investigation by the Minnesota State Patrol, we realized it was really a criminal scam,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. “A lot of people came to Civics Reborn looking for an economical means of getting to work and all they got was deceptions and lies. We are pleased with the tougher sentence.”

Moore, 25, of Crystal, pleaded guilty to one count of theft by swindle over $35,000 in September and eight other counts were dropped.  A customer would come to one of Moore’s five locations seeking a used Honda Civic, which he and his mechanics said they would refurbish. The customer would be required to pay the full amount for the car, usually between $3,000 and $6,000, up front. However, in many cases the customer never received a car, or the car they received was unsafe to drive, according to the criminal complaint.

In addition, Moore swindled about $79,000 from a school teacher who invested in Civics Reborn. He assured her that because of the money she contributed, all the back orders for cars had been delivered, which was not true, the criminal complaint states.

A number of Moore’s victims gave victim impact statements at the sentencing Friday. Two of them said their guts told them there was something wrong when Moore insisted they pay the full amount up front, but they did it anyway. Several others mentioned that they liked what Moore said during a television interview, that he was recycling Civics that otherwise might wind up in a junkyard.

Dylan Galos, a University of Minnesota graduate student, paid for a Civic in 2012. He told the court that it wasn’t just the lost money, but all of the time he had to spend badgering Moore for a car he never received.

Sara Briggs said she and her husband have four children and they saved hard to pay for a used car instead of taking out a loan. She was on the phone every day with Moore’s mechanic after the deadline passed for the car’s delivery. Finally, they dropped a Civic off at the house and left quickly. When Briggs and her husband saw it, the car was unsafe to drive and had a hole through the bottom of the trunk. Moore was no longer answering his calls, but they finally tracked him down at one of his locations and argued with him for 45 minutes in the rain, with Moore insisting the car was fine. He repaid only a fraction of the money, she said.

Melissa Hadaway told the court the car was not delivered, but he finally gave her a loaner. As she was driving to work on the freeway, smoke billowed out of the engine and into the passenger compartment. She could not see and had to pull over and construction workers ran to make sure she was safe.

Jim Carroll, a disabled Vietnam veteran, said he and his wife were buying the car to help their daughter. Over time, they were shown three different Civics by employees, but none were delivered because they had not quite finished the work. The last one had a car’s engine sitting in the back seat, he said.

“Zachary Moore thinks he’s the smartest man in the room,” Carroll said. “He has no integrity. It’s time for Zachary Moore to man up.”

When it was his turn, Moore told the victims he heard what they said and vowed he would do everything necessary to pay back his victims.

“I apologize to everyone,” he said. “This is not who I want to be in life.”

Read the criminal complaint (PDF).