A group of wealthy businessmen and underworld debt collectors are chasing a luxury car salesman over the disappearance of up to $10 million and a missing fleet of Bentleys, Lamborghinis and Maseratis after the collapse of a dealership popular with the city's rich and famous.
Property magnates Jimmy Goh, Mario Salvo and Richard Gu, disgraced doctor Geoffrey Edelsten, and businessman Wayne Mailing are among at least two dozen customers and investors ensnared in a rort allegedly run by Maurie Duchini of Brent's Prestige World.
Several other prominent business figures, underworld identities, nightclub owners and AFL footballers are believed to be owed massive amounts by Mr Duchini but have refused to come forward.
The company's demise came after regulator Consumer Affairs Victoria suspended Mr Duchini's trading licence after he was repeatedly caught illegally selling cars on consignment.
But The Sunday Age can reveal the 61-year-old could face investigation by police and tax authorities over allegations he ran a series of scams from his Moorabbin business targeting wealthy customers, business associates and long-time friends.
Mr Duchini, who has previous criminal convictions for ''recklessly inducing investment'', has been accused of misappropriating money from vehicle purchases and sales, using customers' cars as collateral for private loans, and avoiding stamp duty and the luxury car tax.
Corporate liquidators Bent & Cougle have also been called in to investigate the collapse of Brent's Prestige World, with attention focusing on the whereabouts and ''possible true ownership'' of about 30 luxury cars registered in the company's name.
One disgruntled customer has already employed underworld boss-turned-debt collector Mick Gatto to repossess a car from Mr Duchini, which was taken in lieu of more than $400,000 Mr Duchini allegedly failed to hand over after selling a Rolls-Royce on consignment.
Other victims told The Sunday Age that they were owed payments of more than $200,000 from consignment sales organised by Mr Duchini.
''He kept telling me he would give me the money for my car he sold but it was just excuse after excuse after excuse,'' one said.
Buyers were also slugged in the scam, with one putting down $400,000 for a Bentley that was never ordered. In another rort, Mr Duchini allegedly used cars registered in the company's name - including a $650,000 Lamborgini, Rolls-Royce and a Maserati - as collateral for substantial loans from wealthy businessmen. They later discovered the cars had allegedly been sold off or could not be located when Mr Duchini defaulted on the debts.
''We've got a bizarre situation where a car registered to Maurie's dealership has been used to secure a loan for Maurie but that very same car is sitting in the driveway of some wealthy bloke in Toorak,'' a source said. ''It's a total mess. Maurie has burnt a lot of powerful people.''
Messrs Goh, Salvo, Gu, Mailing and Edelsten would not comment when contacted by The Sunday Age.
Creditors have so far filed claims for more than $4 million but the ultimate value of the losses could exceed $10 million.
The Sunday Age understands that several victims will file complaints with the Fraud Squad.
The State Revenue Office, which collects transfer duties on auto sales, declined to comment.
Consumer Affairs Victoria said its investigation was ongoing.
One car buyer stung in the scam has already been compensated through a traders industry compensation fund.
Mr Duchini did not respond to a request for comment.
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