Car restoration business is international in nature. Those who specialize in it source parts in China or Europe, and some scour various suppliers in North America. Sadly, the parts import industry is wrought with fraud and the only remedy is uniform best practices and better collaboration between law enforcement agencies.
Land Rover restoration fraud has been around for some time, and the victims are usually collectors and Land Rover enthusiasts. One such incident illustrates that there is need for new, better regulations and uniformity of rules. It has been flagged in recent news https://www.theodysseyonline.com/washington-land-rover-restoration-shop-faces-7-figure-fraud-charges.
Many of the incidents get discussed in popular Defender forums such as www.landroverforums.com, www.defendersource.com, www.nas-row.com, and many others. There are also many companies that offer parts and restoration services for Defender enthusiasts. On April 23, 2022, the Robb Report selected 7 of the top Land Rover Defender restoration companies. These include Himalaya, ECD Automotive Design, Arkonic Ltd., Osprey Custom Cars, and a few others. Missing from the list for good reason is a Gig Harbor, Washington company that many of the Land Rover Defender aficionados don’t know much about – Defenders Northwest, LLC owned by Gig Harbor locals, Michele and Brian Hall.
A major lawsuit alleging fraud was just filed against them and Defenders Northwest LLC, sending an earthquake throughout the Land Rover Defender community. The legal documents filed explain that Brian Hall and Michele Hall, and their company, Defenders Northwest, LLC not only engage in the import of gray market and contraband Land Rover parts but are actually scamming people by taking on restoration projects to steel customers’ cars and money.
The lengthy legal documents filed in state court, meticulously describe how two swindlers with the help of some consultants orchestrated a fraudulent scheme to cheat their customers in excess of 6 figures. Defenders Northwest markets its purported services through its website www.defenersnorthwest.com and various online discussion forums, auto shows, and social media.
Based in a sleepy small town, Gig Harbor, Washington, the alleged fraudsters who had filed for personal bankruptcy set up a repair shop that prays on unsuspecting vintage Land Rover Defender enthusiasts. The couple’s website claims to provide parts and restoration services to the tightly-knit Land Rover Defender community. The ominous lawsuit is rife with grave civil and criminal allegations that the Gig Harbor couple with the aid of their part-time lawyer and consultant stole a vintage Land Rover they were contracted to restore. Allegedly, Brian Hall and his wife, Michele Hall, kept running the scam for years, sending fraudulent invoices while making up excuses why the owners’ vehicles cannot be delivered. Brian Hall claimed that his shop was targeted for multiple burglaries and vandalism; then, Brian Hall claimed that COVID-19 delays and sudden phantom electrical problems led to more delays. Just like other fraudsters and Ponzi scheme operators, Halls’ downfall was inexorable.
Brian Hall, according to his LinkedIn profile,(https://www.linkedin.com/in/brianthall/) was a sales and marketing manager at the Black & Decker, Inc. before he and Michele Hall launched their importation and sales of ROW-vintage and legacy Land Rover Defender parts, vehicles, and restoration services business. Neither Mr. Hall nor his wife responded to requests for comment on this story.
Allegedly the projects entrusted to Defenders Northwest and Brian Hall and Michele Hall were leveraged to obtain sponsored parts for the famous Las Vegas-based SEMA auto show without the customers’ permission. SEMA is a trade industry event for the automotive specialty equipment manufacturers to display alongside automotive manufacturers to debut new, innovative products, and connect with industry buyers from all over the world. According to the legal documents we reviewed, the restoration project, which ran up to mid-six figures of unaccounted fees and fabricated invoices, was a carefully orchestrated fraud, when finally Brian Hall and Michele and their part-time lawyer, Shawn Harju refused to deliver the vehicle, demanding more money (after admitting there was nothing owed) and a full release points our attorney, Alessandro Assanti of A. G. Assanti.
Land Rover Defenders were sold in the U.S. from 1993 through 1997. Major changes to DOT regulations for later models required side-impact door beams and front-seat airbags. These are safety modifications that Land Rover chose not to install, given that Defenders were a low-volume vehicle. Due to its ultra-rugged reputation and its resemblance to classic Land Rovers of yesteryear, the Defender remains in high demand today. The Land Rover Defender remained cosmetically similar throughout its production run, making it difficult for people to distinguish between a legal 1988 Defender and an illegal 1998 Defender with older VIN numbers. Many dishonest restoration outfits take advantage of these similarities to lure in customers for restoration projects that are in violation of state and federal laws. Defenders Northwest is alleged to be such a shop by the victims who sued.
Land Rover Defender repair and restoration business is already controversial and is watched by Homeland Security Investigators and Customs & Border Protection. Defender vehicles were banned from being imported into the U.S. Restored vintage Land Rover Defenders are often sold for high dollars that rival Mercedes SUVs and fall into the hands of wealthy off-road adventurers. The court documents examined by reporters allege that Defenders Northwest and the Halls operate an illegal restoration business that caters to customers who pay extra to register banned vehicles by using industry loopholes.
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