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Alawsuit has been filed against the reborn supercar maker, De Tomaso, by former employee Ryan Berris. Berris claims that De Tomaso stiffed him on millions in unpaid wages. While that is fairly run-of-the-mill corporate behavior, there seems to be a darker force behind De Tomaso. When the unpaid employee began to make a fuss, an associate of Norman Choi, the brand’s current owner, allegedly made violent threats to Berris, forcing him into hiding for over a year. He has only recently reemerged to file his suit. What the hell is going on here? Is De Tomaso a front for something a bit more, uh, organized?
Why did supercar maker De Tomaso threaten a former employee?
The Drive immediately attempted to contact De Tomaso and Samuel Lui for a statement. Neither Lui nor the company has responded. Despite the accused’s silence, Berris filed a 59-page complaint detailing the events he is suing over.
According to The Drive, his tome of complaints is home to a host of financial allegations, including, but not limited to, money laundering, self-dealing, and “pump-and-dump” schemes surrounding De Tomaso and affiliated automaker Apollo. You may know Apollo by its previous name, Gumpert.
The big picture is that Berris is accusing De Tomaso and Apollo of a grand scheme to pump up the brand’s value and sell it off as quickly as possible. Samuel Choi and Michael Choi (different Chois) are the two Berris’ complaint points to as the main orchestrators of the scheme. If this supposed plan were to work, the company would be sold for more than its worth due to the artificially inflated numbers.
The Drive spoke directly with Berris
“For years, I dedicated most of my waking hours to developing a credibly revived De Tomaso that was worthy of that brand’s legacy. When we debuted the P72 and the subsequent stages of the brand’s vision thereafter, I repeatedly heard from clients, dealer partners, and friends about how they sensed genuine creative energy and excitement around it,” Berris told The Drive.
While somewhat obscure, De Tomaso was a well-loved brand that made the De Tomaso Pantera one of the coolest supercars ever made. Like many other wild sportscar makers of the time, the Pantera didn’t sell all that well and eventually fell into relative obscurity. Although, prices for the legendary Panteras climbed over the years due to their extreme looks and rarity.
Berris has a genuine passion for the brand, and pouring his blood, sweat, and tears into bringing the marque back makes plenty of sense. To realize his dream of bringing back the brand was, in part, a lie must have been heavy. This betrayal is not felt in his statement but explicitly stated.
“The client’s dreams were the same as mine – to be a part of the De Tomaso tradition and bring it into the future. The sense of betrayal I felt when I realized Norman Choi did not share those aspirations but was instead misusing the company for his own financial purposes and tarnishing what I had worked so hard to create was utterly devastating. And its implications for my clients and team broke my heart. While I still believe in the De Tomaso brand and its potential – I have to stand up for myself and my clients against what Choi has wrought.”
Berris went to the mat for De Tomaso
The Drive explains that Berris’ story is that as a known professional in the automotive world, Norman Choi poached him to build an automotive company from nothing using only industry knowledge and connections on the back of a known but defunct brand name.
As Berris says, The red flags came when Choi began pressuring him to use sketchy suppliers and partners to build the De Tomaso cars. Berris says Choi became “laser-focused” on taking the firm public. He accuses Choi of lying to customers who had deposits on cars, telling them that their cars would be ready far earlier than possible to keep buyers’ money with the company. Berris also says that the company wasn’t paying parts suppliers and other partners on time, or in some cases at all. The allegations go so far as to say that Lui was manipulating documents to add value to the company.
De Tomaso owes Berris money
Berris says that during his time at De Tomaso, Choi only paid him $33,000. When he signed on, he was promised millions but deferred his salary to help keep the company afloat. He was also promised sales commissions and equity in the company. The company has yet to pay Berris what he is allegedly owed.
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