Jim Moran, Tax Cheat

No, that headline isn't fair, but it's about as balanced as the front-page Sun-Sentinel obituary on the Deerfield Beach billionaire. The article almost completely avoided the darker side of Moran, who died Tuesday at the age of 88. It mentioned briefly that he pleaded guilty in 1984 to evading income taxes but you had to read Patrick Danner's story in the Herald to find out about some of his other misdeeds.

... troubles began in 1984, when Moran pleaded guilty to seven counts of income-tax evasion. He got probation, paid a $35,000 fine and started the Youth Automotive Training Center to train troubled youths in car repair.

Soon after, a flurry of lawsuits was filed by dealers who accused JM Family of threatening to cut off supplies of Toyotas if they didn't steer business to his other firms. Later, Moran faced accusations that he denied Toyota dealerships to qualified black applicants, which sparked a congressional hearing in 1992.

The verdicts and settlements totaled more than $100 million, the Daily Business Review reported at the time. Around the time of congressional hearings, Moran created the African-American Achievers awards.

Danner played it about right -- telling of the man's truly incredible success but not making him out to be a fairy tale. Moran started as a used car salesman in Chicago and he was a damn good one. Then he went to Japan, hooked up with Toyota, and helped make sure there was a Corolla in every driveway (my first car, incidentally, and a damn good one). He became an automotive king -- and in the mid-1980s apparently became a tad bit tyrannical. But during the past two decades he has been South Florida's top philanthropist, with Women in Distress, the Youth Automotive Training Center, and countless other charitable acts. I've been to the automotive training center in Deerfield Beach and know that it's been a beacon and possibly even a lifesaver for a lot of economically disadvantaged black kids. And Women in Distress has been a refuge for countless women when they need it most.

What I like about Moran is that he was a salesman and businessman through and through. He wasn't like some other billionaires we know who want to own all the politicians, try to build ungainly developments, scam the public with a bad arena deal in Sunrise, run our sports teams, and pollute the political system with lobbyists. Sure Moran flexed his muscle in Deerfield and elsewhere at times, but he wasn't a civic vampire. As far as billionaires go, Moran wasn't bad at all. In fact, he was a damn good one.


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