Feds selling $1 million worth of classic cars bought with embezzled Russian cash

jhyde1
Motoramic

Government seizure auctions tend toward the predictable cars of thieves and tax cheats; lots of high-buck SUVs or expensive sports cars. It's far rarer to see a piece of history like a 1939 Bugatti 57C fall into the impound lot, let alone a mini-fleet of eight classic cars that run from Packards to Mercedes-Benz valued at $1 million. Here's how a Russian money laundering scheme led to the G-men taking the keys.

According to federal court documents, the cars belonged to Leigh E. Sprague, an American citizen who worked in the Moscow offices of Rusal, a Russian company that's the world's largest producer of aluminum. Using fake emails and a shell company, federal officials say Sprague and his wife diverted some $10 million in Rusal's cash to their own accounts and used at least $1 million to buy 13 cars including several rare convertibles. When a Rusal executive in Moscow attempted to confront Sprague about the scheme in April 2011, Sprague said he had to go to the bathroom and ran out of the building.

After the U.S. government filed its forfeiture claim last year, Sprague agreed to not fight the seizures as part of a settlement with Rusal. Of the eight cars taken, the most expensive was likely the 1937 Bugatti 57C Berliner, which was sold in 2010 at Bonhams auction in Paris for $205,000. Then again, it could be the unique 1938 Peugeot 402BL Eclipse Decapotable, of which only 500 were built and fewer than 50 survive. The rest of the bounty: a 1937 Packard Super 8, a 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan, a 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark IV, a 1962 Mercedes 220SE Cabriolet, a 1966 AMC Ambassador 990 and a 1970 Mercedes Benz 280SE.

Today, the cars sit in the Apple Towing lot in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where they're for sale in an online auction for another week or so. It's not a fancy auction like the Pebble Beach scene, but one man's misfortune could be your lucky steal.

Photos: Apple Towing