NAUGATUCK — Keith Goggin is not a Porsche guy. The 42-year-old Manhattan options trader describes himself as more of an “American-hotrod-muscle-car guy.” But when borough resident Paul Burkman proposed that Goggin invest in a vintage Porsche race car, Goggin was intrigued.
The sleek, sophisticated 1959 Porsche 718 RS had actually been raced, Burkman insisted. So in October 2009, the two met in a conference room in Mount Kisco, N.Y., with a mutual acquaintance who introduced them, to hammer out an agreement. Goggin would pony up $250,000 to buy the car and Burkman would arrange to restore it to mint condition. Burkman would resell the car and the two would split the profit. Goggin would come out of the deal $90,000 richer after Burkman, who said he had already found a buyer, sold the car.
What happened next, according to court records and interviews with Goggin, was “Flip This Car” meets “Punk’d,” a bizarre string of occurrences that suggest there never was a buyer for the car. Or a restorer.
Or even a Porsche.
Trouble at Burger King
To Goggin, the deal seemed ironclad.
“It’s a very stylish design,” he said of the car, “and Porsche has a significant racing history and, beyond that, I am into cars enough to be aware that there is a legion of Porsche fanatics out there. Someone would have bought it.”
Burkman, who lives at 95 Gail Drive, was a quiet, even shy man, who Goggin knew to be in the business of restoring vintage and high-end cars, Goggin said. An Internet search yielded no reported scams or complaints about Burkman, so Goggin had no reason to doubt the deal.
Now Goggin is suing Burkman for at least $680,000 in Waterbury Superior Court, claiming fraud. A breach of contract claim was judged in Goggin’s favor Jan. 3.
“I’m kind of sad that this is a scam, because it would have been pretty cool to see that race car,” Goggin said.
In an e-mail exchange that Goggin provided to the Republican-American, Burkman claimed the car arrived Dec. 6, 2009, from Europe. A man named Pete Kelly was supposed to restore the car at his shop in Torrington, along with a Porsche 356 Speedster that Goggin had also agreed to invest in, Goggin said. Goggin received e-mail exchanges between Burkman and Kelly as they tried to figure out a date for Goggin to visit Torrington and see the cars being restored.
They settled on a dreary morning in February. After driving the long haul from New York City, Goggin sat with Burkman in a Burger King in Torrington, waiting for Pete Kelly to arrive, Goggin said. Burkman claimed not to know where Kelly’s shop had moved to.
Goggin ordered a breakfast sandwich, Burkman got coffee, they talked about cars — and waited. About two hours passed, Goggin said
“Paul made a big show of trying to call Pete and leave him messages,” Goggin said. “He was agitated, and annoyed and sweating.”
Eventually, someone called Burkman’s phone to say Kelly’s son had fallen down some stairs, so they left, Goggin said.
“After the Burger King thing, I was definitely starting to worry,” Goggin said.
‘Fake a heart attack’
Something did work out in Goggin’s favor. Burkman, claiming he had sold the Speedster, paid Goggin his investment on that car April 7, plus $30,000. Burkman sent photos May 13 of what looked like a Porsche 718 RS supposedly being restored at Kelly’s shop, and later asked that the deadline for that project be extended to July 1.
Goggin, still concerned that he had never met Kelly, replied, “I would like the opportunity to see the car and verify both its authenticity and the status of the renovation.”
Via e-mail, they arranged for Kelly to deliver the car to another restoration shop in Stratford in early June, and when that didn’t happen, to a vintage car garage in Bedford Hills, N.Y., later in the month. Burkman copied Goggin on e-mails to a Hotmail address for Kelly, begging the car restorer to make arrangements for Goggin to pick up the Porsche.
“THIS IS A REAL PROBLEM!” Burkman wrote to Kelly in large blue letters.
By the last day in June, Goggin says, he was convinced that Kelly had stolen the car or the whole thing had been a scam. He arranged for Burkman to meet him at a rest stop in Darien. Sitting in McDonald’s, Burkman said Kelly had moved his shop and would not give the car back, Goggin said. Goggin suggested they file a police report in Torrington, and as they were walking across the parking lot to Goggin’s BMW, Burkman started convulsing, Goggin said.
“I think what he was going to do is fake a heart attack,” Goggin said.
When Goggin remained impassive, Burkman began to cry, Goggin said.
“He said, ‘Please don’t tell my wife. I don’t know why I did this,'” Goggin said.
Burkman admitted he had never bought the car and had spent Goggin’s $250,000. Goggin drove him to their attorney’s office in White Plains, N.Y., where they signed a settlement stating that Burkman intended to borrow from family members to pay Goggin $340,000 by July 31.
Fairly soon after the deal fell apart, an acquaintance of Goggin found on a Volkswagen fans’ message board the photos Burkman had sent of the car being restored. They had been posted Jan. 29, 2010, by someone from England building a Porsche 718 replica from Volkswagen parts.
To begin repayment, Burkman sent Goggin an e-mail July 21 claiming to have wired $200,000 from Webster Bank and including a reference number, but the money never arrived, Goggin said.
Under the name of his investment company, Blue Sturgeon Holdings, Goggin filed his lawsuit against Burkman five days later in Waterbury Superior Court. The court granted Burkman an extension to defend against the fraud claim, and Burkman on Wednesday asked for another 30-day extension.
Burkman’s attorney, Stephanie McLaughlin of Sandak, Hennessey & Greco in Stamford, claims the money Goggin paid Burkman is not an investment but a predatory loan to be paid back at an impossibly high 36 percent interest rate, court documents show.
‘A lot of excuses’
The settlement Goggin and Burkman signed in June is “void due to duress and undue influence,” McLaughlin wrote in a disclosure of defense document. Neither Burkman nor McLaughlin would comment.
Burkman paid Goggin $10,000 several months ago, but is still responsible for the remaining $330,000.
“I’ve heard a lot of excuses for why there’s going to be money in the near term, but there isn’t any today,” Goggin said. “One of his excuses at one point was that he had the money, but it was in Canadian dollars.”
Goggin now wonders whether Kelly ever existed. As for the money he got from the Speedster deal, “it’s quite possible that it’s all a Ponzi scheme and I got paid back with my own money or someone else’s money,” he said.
Burkman’s company, Performance Outfitters Group, went bankrupt a few months ago, said Matt Jackson, owner of After FX Customs, another car restoration company that bought Performance Outfitters Group’s assets.
Jackson refused to buy the company outright, although he hired the installers and the sales staff after they re-applied for their jobs, he said. Jackson did not want Burkman or his two co-owners to have any part in the new company, especially after he heard Burkman owed somebody a car, he said.
“My legal team said, ‘You can’t have anything to do with this company,'” Jackson said. “Paul was let go because we could not keep that situation.”
No other lawsuits or criminal charges have been filed against Burkman in Connecticut. The Naugatuck Police Department is not investigating the case because no transactions occurred in the borough, department spokesman Lt. Robert Harrison said.
Goggin brought the case to Stamford police, but was told they would not investigate, he said.
If Goggin gets his $330,000, he will drop the lawsuit, he said, but he does not expect to get paid.
“If the guy doesn’t have any money, you can’t collect,” he said. “I’m sort of doing this on principle. I don’t think I’m ever going to get anything out of Paul. I just want to make sure no one else gets ripped off.”