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ICE probe targets importer of prized muscle cars

Federal probe involves Nissan model made famous by 'Fast and Furious' movies

SANTA ANA, Calif. - A former Orange County sheriff's deputy, who operated several now-defunct auto businesses, made his initial court appearance Monday morning on federal charges for illegally importing models of the Japanese muscle car made famous by the "Fast & Furious" movies into the United States and selling them to sports car enthusiasts and collectors.

Daryl R. Alison, 45, of San Clemente, Calif., is accused in a criminal information with removing the markings from an imported vehicle, a misdemeanor. Kaizo Industries, Alison's former Costa Mesa, Calif., company, is charged with a felony for failing to file the required paperwork on the imported vehicles in violation of the Clean Air Act. Both Alison and his now defunct company have agreed to plead guilty to the charges.

According to the court documents, Kaizo Industries imported disassembled Nissan Skylines and other Japanese right-hand drive cars into California and sold them, though they did not comply with U.S. environmental and safety regulations. Alison also operated two websites, Jspecconnect.com and JustDriven.com, that advertised the sought-after cars online.

The charges are the result of an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigations Division, the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the California Air Resources Board.

HSI investigators say as part of the scheme the Skylines were imported in two shipments - the car body in one container and the vehicle drive-train in another. Despite Kaizo's public claims, the bodies themselves had not been modified to comply with Department of Transportation regulations. After arriving at Kaizo's warehouse, several of the car bodies were then mated back with their original drive-trains and sold to the public. So the vehicles could be registered in the United States, the defendants allegedly put bogus 17-digit Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) on the cars in place of the actual Nissan VIN plate. To avoid California's stricter registration and emission requirements, many of the cars were registered out of the state and sold to California residents with Florida and Arizona plates.

In June 2009, federal and state investigators executed a search warrant at Kaizo Industries in Costa Mesa. During the search, agents located and seized three Nissan Skylines that did not meet U.S. environmental and safety standards. Additionally, authorities have seized nine other vehicles in connection with the probe, including the "hero" car from fourth installment of the "Fast & Furious" movie series. Collectively, the vehicles seized by ICE and CBP to date have an estimated valued of more than $450,000.

"While many car buffs scoff at enforcement of vehicle import laws - to be clear, these are not just technical violations," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Los Angeles. "Vehicles that don't meet U.S. environmental and safety standards are outlawed because they can pose a real threat to public health and driver safety."

Long admired by racing and "drifting" buffs, Skyline's popularity soared after the cars were tapped for starring roles in the "Fast and Furious" movies. While the Skyline has been produced since 1955, most of the earlier models were not manufactured for the U.S. auto market and did not meet domestic safety and environmental regulations. One of the newest Skyline production models, the R35, does comply with those requirements, but it was not imported by Nissan until July 2008.