Salvador archdiocese sues Seacoast finance company

The archdiocese of San Salvador is suing a Seacoast finance company, and a supposedly related used car dealership and repair shop, for allegedly scamming it out of $1 million.

The suit alleges in that in 2002 FM International LLC as well as its principals –Thomas D. McCarron and Gary Friedrich, its designated agent, Mauricio Coronado, and McCarron’s company, Foreign Motors of Durham Inc. – tricked the archdiocese into wiring $1 million into FMI’s Granite State Bank account in Portsmouth with the promise of providing 10 times as much in earthquake relief.

The defendants quickly cleaned out the bank account, according to the complaint, and Coronado was thrown into jail (the court awarded judgment against Coronado in default), but the church has yet get back any of its money.

“We believe this is an outrageous misappropriation of funds that occurred, and we are seeking our redress in district court,” said Thomas HanniganJr., an attorney with the Boston-based law firm of Ropes & Gray.

A person answering the phone at Foreign Motors of Durham Inc. located off of Route 108 in Durham declined to identify himself but said that the suit only involved previous owners of the company. He declined to say when the business was sold, or offer any further comment.

According to Foreign Motors’ last annual report, filed on Jan. 27 by McCarron, McCarron is the firm’s vice president, treasurer and board of directors. The company’s president listed on the filing – Gary Sonnenschein of Madbury — is not named in the lawsuit.

David Vincinanzo, who is representing the dealership, FMI and McCarran and Friedrich, could not be reached for comment – but in his filing to dismiss the charges briefly stated that his clients had no knowledge of “Coronado’s allegedly wrongful conduct” in this “incredible tale” that is “indeed sad and unfortunate.” However Vincinanzo’s main argument was not on the merits of the case, but that suit should be dismissed because it violates the statute of limitations. The court dismissed some of the charges on Feb. 23, but left intact charges of fraud and breach of contract against FMI and conversion of stolen goods for all the defendants. A civil trial is scheduled this summer.

The suit primarily focuses on the actions of Coronado, a citizen of Guatemala who was living in Miami. FMI, having been formed by McCarron – formerly of New Castle and now of Eliot, Maine, and Friedrich, of Stratham, in 1997 appointed Coronado to be FMI’s exclusive legal representative for most of Central and South America. They gave him the authority to sign checks on FMI Portsmouth’s bank account, according to the suit.

Shortly after a devastating earthquake rocked El Salvador in 2001, Coronado allegedly approached the archdiocese “insinuating” that FMI – which has the same initials as the International Monetary Fund in Spanish – was somehow related to the IMF. Coronado allegedly told the church about an FMI matching fund program, which would multiply the church’s relief money tenfold. On Feb. 28, 2002, Coronado and McCarron allegedly met with archdiocese representatives and — after getting them to sign a nondisclosure agreement — demanded and received a $500,000 transfer into the FMI bank account, and an additional $40,000 in fees that went directly to Coronado.

The next day, the archdioceses was told by Coronado’s associates that another country had backed out of the program, giving the church an opportunity to obtain another $5 million in earthquake relief by depositing another $500,000 into FMI’s account, according to the suit.

In May, after no $10 million appeared, the church sought out Coronado, who explained that program had been delayed for various reasons, including the banking situation after the September 11th attacks. In July 2002, Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle learned that some of the documents presented by Coronado were not authentic and contacted local prosecutors, who arrested him while he was in El Salvador, the suit said. Coronado was awaiting trial in Guatemala, according to the complaint.

The archbishop later learned that the defendants withdrew out all but $1,000 of the account in the next four months following the transfer, according to the suit. The church is seeking $10 million in damages. – BOB SANDERS

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