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Wednesday, January 24, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Former auto dealer repays money; employees allegedly stole from customer

Seattle Times staff reporter

A former West Seattle auto dealer whose employees allegedly stole about $100,000 from a mentally ill customer wrote two checks Tuesday to repay what was stolen.

Steve Huling said his intention is to "right this serious wrong." Staring into several television-news cameras, Huling handed King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lynn Prunhuber two checks — $29,420.82 for a pickup that the mentally ill man was allegedly coerced into buying and $70,000 for what Huling's employees reportedly stole from the man.

Prunhuber said she is trying to find the best way to return the money to the man, who is not being identified because of his vulnerability, in a way that ensures he won't be taken advantage of again.

It's unclear how the man, who spent the past 11 years living in a subsidized housing complex, came to have a dresser drawer filled with cash, according to police. The man is now at Western State Hospital.

Reading from a prepared statement, Huling said his family is outraged by "this blatant and isolated injustice at our dealership." Huling, who sold the dealership last month, declined to answer any questions. He would only say, "It's really been a trying time for us."

On July 21, the mentally ill man walked into the dealership and expressed interest in a new pickup, according to charging papers filed in King County Superior Court. Though the man's pants were encrusted in feces and urine, after he said he had enough cash to pay for the vehicle at his home, an employee drove him there to retrieve the money, the charging papers said.

After the sale of the truck to the mentally ill man, the employee then told his co-workers about an inheritance the man said he had stashed inside his apartment, and the next day two employees broke in, according to the charging papers.

Police alleged that Adrian G. Dillard, 32, and Ted E. Coxwell, 39, stole $70,000.

On July 27, the mentally ill man called Seattle police to report his stolen money and missing truck, which had been impounded, charging papers said. After seeing feces in the man's apartment, the officer had the man committed to Harborview Medical Center, prosecutors said.

Within weeks, the mentally ill man contacted the dealership again. He told employee Paul R. Rimbey that he was afraid his truck would be auctioned off, the charging papers said.

On Aug. 28, Rimbey allegedly showed up at the hospital with a contract that said the man would sign over his truck, pay the impound fee and give Rimbey a $300 service charge, police said. The man signed the contract, according to the charging documents.

In a King County courtroom Tuesday, Dillard, who is charged with burglary, theft and money-laundering, and Rimbey, 39, who is charged with theft, pleaded not guilty.

Coxwell has been charged with burglary and theft but has yet to be arraigned.

Though Seattle police say that eight other Huling employees participated in the theft plan, prosecutors don't anticipate filing additional charges.

"These three are the only three believed to have received proceeds from the theft," Prunhuber said.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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