(Courtesy photo)

Former Marin auto dealership manager sentenced for $6M embezzlement

The former general manager of two auto dealerships in Marin County was sentenced in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday to four years and six months in prison for embezzling more than $6 million.

Amir Bakhtiari, 51, was given the prison term by U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who also ordered him to pay $6,618,639 in restitution to Sonnen Motorcars and $1,443,911 in restitution to the U.S. Internal RevenueService for unpaid taxes.

Bakhtiari managed Sonnen’s Audi Marin and Sonnen Volkswagen in San Rafael from 2009 to 2016, eventually becoming general manager of both, according to a 2018 grand jury indictment.

He pleaded guilty before Alsup in March to one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Abraham Simmons said that during the plea, Bakhtiari admitted to embezzling $6.6 million from Sonnen between 2010 and 2016, mostly in the form of fraudulent invoices for advertising thatwas never done and some in the form of bonuses to himself.

Most of the money went to Bakhtiari himself and some allegedly went to two associates, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors charged in a sentencing brief that Bakhtiari spent the stolen funds on a Newport Beach house, jewelry, travel, trips to Las Vegas,gambling, art and purchases at high-end retail stores. They called him “a classic white-collar criminal – an industry professional who took advantageof the trust others put in him.”

Bakhtiari, an Iranian citizen, was raised in Iran, where his father was head of security at the Iranian oil company and his uncle was briefly prime minister before Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in the Iranian revolution in 1979, according to a defense sentencing brief.

The family fled to the United States in 1991, according to the brief filed by defense attorney Martha Boersch, who wrote that Bakhtiari will be subject to possible deportation after completing his sentence.

A co-defendant, Austin Caba, pleaded guilty to two counts and is due to be sentenced by Alsup on Dec. 10.

Separately, Sonnen Motors owner Peter Sonnen has filed a civil fraud and theft lawsuit in Marin County Superior Court against Bakhtiari and several alleged associates. The lawsuit was put on hold until the federal criminal case was completed and is scheduled for a hearing in Superior Court on Jan. 31.

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