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It's a quiet weekday afternoon inside New-Park Mall in Newark. A smattering of retired folk, teen-agers, and suburbanites with schedules that allow the luxury of mid-week mall-trolling wander in and out of stores. Most take at least a glance at the bright yellow sports car on display near the center escalators. Others lean over a little white chain fence to peek inside and dream for a moment of owning a 1991 Lamborghini Diablo, one of only 1,300 such automobiles in the world.
Behind the car, two young men sporting baggy jeans and backward baseball caps peruse a flier and chat with the pitchman for the car, who is sitting behind a small table that displays a sign indicating membership in the Better Business Bureau's Customer Assistance Program. The flier tells the young men how they can "test drive" the Lamborghini, or a Ferrari, or a Dodge Viper, for an hour -- an hour that Jaeson Smith, the man behind the table and the creator of this scheme, prefers to call "the thrill of a lifetime."
It is a $195 thrill.
The young men pause and stare for a moment, perhaps picturing themselves behind the wheel. Smith turns his attention to an older man on the other side of his table.
"How are you doing today? Thanks for stopping by."
Smith says that hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of people have signed on for his sports car test drives, which were first advertised in Bay Area newspapers before Christmas. No one has actually driven the car yet, but, Smith says, that's because he has it on display in the mall. About the third week of March, he says, he'll begin the driving appointments for those people who've paid their money. Of course, some people have certificates that should have allowed them to drive the car as of Jan. 2. But, Smith allows, the Lamborghini arrangement got off to a rough start. Everyone who paid, Smith insists, will be scheduled in 1997.
And this type of scheduling nightmare will not be repeated, Smith suggests, because he will be dealing with the Lamborghini in a different way from now on.
"After this week, I'm probably not going to be offering this anymore," he continues. "This has been very successful. But I'd like to experiment with a smaller group of people in a time share."
Smith's latest thrill-of-a-lifetime venture involves the same Lamborghini. As he describes it, though, the new deal will work something along the lines of vacation condominium time shares.
As of last week, the deal involved a $950 down payment. Thereafter, investors would pay $95 a month for the right to drive the car for one hour each month.
Last month, fliers sent through the mail told investors they would pay $2,500 down and $65 a month on a car to be purchased with the funds from the Lamborghini syndication.
"I'm making a transition here," is the way Smith explains the difference. "It's going to be very complicated for people to understand."
And given his history, Smith is almost certainly right. The time sharing of this particular 1991 Lamborghini Diablo is going to be complicated indeed.
Smith, you see, is known in various Bay Area courts by at least six last names. He's been convicted of an assortment of fraud-related felonies. There are other scams that have yet to draw the attention of law enforcement authorities, and a broad variety of angry victims.
"I've made some mistakes. I'm not proud of that," he says, but "I've never intentionally tried to defraud anyone."
And has he paid for those mistakes?
"Some of them I've paid for, and some of them I haven't."
Jaeson Smith is also known as Jayson and Jason Smith; Jaeson, Jayson, and Jason Martell, Mantel, and Marcell; D.W. Smith; Jason and Daniel Danfort; and Daen Lodder. He is officially Daniel W. Smith, a 36-year-old man with a colorful resume in small-time crime.
It's no accident that he's named his current company Dreamshare International. Smith sells dreams -- like the Lamborghini. "It's my dream car," he explains. "I want to fulfill other people's dreams as well."
Through the past decade, he has periodically made a living off of people who want to believe in dreams too good to be true. There have been many victims of his fraud, theft, and lies. And, though he's been convicted for several of his past crimes, Smith has been fortunate; because of the Bay Area's balkanized criminal justice system, he's served precious little prison time, and his victims have gotten little or no restitution.
Smith's documentary past is parceled among municipal, superior, and small claims courts in cities and counties along Highway 880, none of which is connected in any meaningful way to any other.
Smith doesn't come with a warning label. And no one -- not law enforcement groups, the court system, other public agencies, or the media -- has been able to protect the general public from the likes of Smith.
He defines the phrase "Let the buyer beware."
On a Sunday afternoon in July 1988, Charles and Sharon Simmons weren't being particularly wary. They noticed a 1979 Dodge Omni parked on the frontage road of Mowry Avenue near Blacow Road in Fremont. The car had a for-sale sign in the windshield; the price seemed to be $600. They were interested.