WEST PALM BEACH — Former U.S. Congressman Mark Foley says he’s been ripped off by one of South Florida’s highest-profile exotic car dealers in what he claims is a pyramid scheme a la Bernie Madoff.
The Republican ex-congressman, who represented a Palm Beach to Fort Pierce district for five terms before he resigned his seat after sexting with an underage male former congressional page, is among dozens of expensive-car owners who may have been taken for a ride by the owner of a bankrupt car dealership that specializes in used Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Aston Martins, Ferraris and other exotic wheels.
And the West Palm Beach-based Chariots of Palm Beach, according to federal court papers, could leave investors, banks and buyers as much as $50 million in the hole.
“We’re not dealing with billions like Bernie Madoff,” Foley said, referring to the former Wall Street investor now serving 150 years in a federal penitentiary after bilking investors out of $13 billion. “But I am the victim of a classic pyramid scheme.”
Until it closed recently, Chariots of Palm Beach was a fancy consignment store where multi-millionaires dropped off cars they no longer wanted. The dealership then tried to sell those cars for a commission.
Over the past few months, according to the bankruptcy documents, Chariots of Palm Beach founder Hugh Bate is believed to have used the titles to cars he didn’t own to secure millions in loans he can’t pay back.
“It’s a real mess,” says Foley. “A federal court might have to determine the ownership of hundreds of cars.”
On August 10, Foley explains he was coincidentally at the Chariots of Palm Beach showroom when a shopper decided to buy the silver-colored Porsche Macan Foley wanted to get rid of.
Foley had bought it last year for $68,000 cash, and took it to the dealership in May. The 63-year-old ex-pol says the man paid the dealership $57,886 for his car before peeling off as he waved bye-bye.
Two months later, Foley is still waiting for the dealership to pay him – and he is worried he might never be shown the money.
“I feel like I’d been carjacked,” Foley now says, “except that nobody stuck a gun in a face and yelled at me to get out of my car.”
Foley says the buyer of his car, a Broward County developer whose name he forgot, did nothing wrong.
“He probably thinks he now owns a nice Porsche. It’s the dealership that did God knows what with my title,” Foley said, adding he didn’t personally sign over the title to the new owner.
Which begs the question: Why would a savvy fancy car lover like Foley go to a consignment store instead of an official Porsche dealer?
“Chariots had an extraordinary reputation,” Foley said, pointing out that the dealership was the area’s go-to place for rare exotic wheels. “They were able to get a better sales price for used cars than the official dealerships.”
And now, the ownership status of dozens of consigned Aston Martins, Bentley Azures and Ferrari Spiders, some of them worth in excess of $400,000, are in limbo.
The list of original owners included in the bankruptcy reads like a who’s who of East Coast business and society, including: New York real estate company owner Stephen Haymes; Palm Beach philanthropist Ross Meltzer, who brought a convertible Bentley to Chariots of Palm Beach months ago; Wolf Von Falkenberg, who’s famous in Palm Beach for his marriage to Standard Oil heiress Anne Terry Pierce McBride while she was on her deathbed; and Washington, D.C., developer Albert Van Metre Jr.
Former Assistant Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Rick Facchine, whose BMW M4 is gathering dust in the shuttered up showroom, is also among the alleged victims. His car wasn’t sold, but he can’t get it back because the title may have been used by Bate to get a lender to loan him money. Facchine declined comment.
Foley says he and others have filed criminal complaints with West Palm Beach Police and the FBI. No criminal charges have been filed.