In new federal court documents filed in early June, an attorney working for Motors Insurance Corp. in Southfield says there is “good reason” to believe that an FBI agent and a federal prosecutor were taking an “extremely rare and exceedingly fast Ferrari out for a joy ride.” If only the story ended there.
As the court files show, a few seconds after taking the vehicle for a “short ride,” the driver, an unnamed FBI agent, lost control of the rare Ferrari F50 and crashed it into a tree. The insurance company, the Ferrari’s owner, is infuriated that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are attempting to shrug off the case without paying for the $750,000 car, one of only 50 in the country.
The saga began in the spring of 2009, just after the FBI had prosecuted the man who, in 2003, stole the rare 1995 Ferrari F50 from a Pennsylvania dealership. After recovering the vehicle in Kentucky in 2008, the FBI was given permission to keep it in a nearby warehouse. The Ferrari is not your average vehicle — it features an engine inspired by Formula 1 racecars, can reach 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds, and can hit a top speed of 203 mph.
After the thief was caught, an FBI agent and Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Hamilton Thompson apparently couldn’t resist taking the hot car for a spin. Honestly, who could blame them? Well, no one would… if only the driver hadn’t lost control, “fishtailed and spun sideways” through some bushes and into a tree, which completely wrecked the exotic car, according to court documents.
In May 2009, the FBI reported the accident to Motors Insurance Corp. The Southfield-based company had full ownership of the vehicle after paying the theft claim when the vehicle was first stolen in 2003. After the crash, Motors Insurance twice attempted to submit a claim to the FBI and the Department of Justice, both times to be denied.
The insurance company’s reasoning behind the $750,000 lawsuit is that they wonder whether the crash was just a simple accident. Greg Bawol, manager of Classic Storage in Detroit, states, “Police sometimes come in and ask to drive the cars [in our warehouse], but they need to have a search warrant. A judge has to give them permission to even look inside the cars, let alone drive them.”
So was permission granted, or did the government agent misuse his authority? Bawol continues, “I used to be an IRS agent, and I know that people like to flash their badges to get their way, but you just don’t do those things. I definitely would not let an agent drive one of our cars just because he had a badge.”
The FBI agent’s vague reasoning for taking the Ferrari out for a “short ride” raised some suspicion for the Southfield insurance company. So, on Feb. 24, 2011, Motors Insurance filed a lawsuit requesting that the FBI release the documents concerning “the negligent use and destruction of a 1995 Ferrari F50,” citing the Freedom of Information Act. The insurer’s attorney declined to comment further than what the latest court documents states, but said, “yes” when asked if the case is “slow-moving.”
The government initially asked U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn to dismiss the case, claiming that the FBI had “civil immunity.” The motion was denied.
Apparently, the FBI isn’t the only group to overstep its boundaries. A similar case occurred in California only a couple of years ago. While this time the government wasn’t involved, a 2007 Ford GT owner found himself questioning the antics of a well-known mechanic named “Shadowman.”
In 2009, a Texas GT owner sent his $200,000 baby to a shop in California to get a tune-up. The tuner asked for permission to go on a “methodical cruise” to get a feel for the car. Permission was granted, but when the pro, who specializes in rare and exotic cars, asked the owner for a copy of his insurance card, it should have been a red flag.
While out for what the tuner called his “’get to know each other’ adventure” with the car, the speedster apparently malfunctioned, went airborne, and ended up crashing into a tree. Of course there are two sides to the story; the mechanic, or “Shadowman,” claims it was an accident and that he had been driving only 65 mph. He did not have insurance.
Suspicious, the owner of the car felt that the tuner should have been more professional when handling the rare vehicle. After surveying the scene (which involved a lot of heavy black skid marks on the highway), the owner and his insurance company felt the mechanic was not telling the whole truth. See a pattern yet?
Every car-enthusiast dreams about driving an exotic sports car like they’re in a James Bond film. However, no one really thinks about the downside of owning a rare vehicle. A classic example is the scene in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, where a valet can’t resist taking Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari 250GT Spyder California for a ride. A few scenes later, as Cameron tries to erase the mileage by jacking up the rear wheels and setting the transmission in reverse, the car accidentally goes through a window and down a ravine.
As for the Ferrari F50, the FBI isn’t out of the woods just yet. On June 13, Judge Cohn met privately with both sides in the case. The court’s final decision has yet to be made, but this being the Southfield company’s third appeal to the court, it’s safe to say that they don’t plan on seeing the government get off with a mere slap on the wrist.