Used with permission

Car forums wept this week when pictures appeared of a 1999 Nissan Skyline GT-R getting towed away by Florida police at a car show in Daytona Beach. In some ways it’s not surprising—that generation of Skyline isn’t really legal to be in the U.S., though some are here under dubious circumstances. But what may look like a typical JDM import gone awry is so much more, now a case involving theft allegations between two longtime dealers and a legendary performance car being stuck in a confusing custody battle. (Update: One of the importers, Myoung Kim, got the car back tonight. See below for details.)

As a result, the dispute between a Japanese car importer and a former import car dealer has law enforcement baffled as to who actually owns the vehicle.

According to a Daytona Beach Police report, the seizure comes after a woman associated with a Japanese car importing operation reported the car stolen from her driveway in early April. About two weeks later, police discovered the allegedly-swiped vehicle at a car show in Daytona, but were told by the former imported car dealer—who was apparently showing the car off at the show—that the vehicle doesn’t actually belong to the importer, but rather to the dealer.

Image used with permission

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The situation has the police utterly confused. “It is unclear at the moment who the lawful owner is of [the Skyline],” the report filed last Saturday reads, “as neither party was able to produce any paperwork showing ownership.”

This uncertainty forced authorities to take the car away until they could figure out who actually owns the thing. “Due to the fact that the lawful owner of [the Skyline] could not be determined at this time,” the police officer wrote, “the [Skyline] was towed by Daytona Wrecker Service to the Daytona Beach Police Department for safekeeping until Detective Bryant can determine lawful ownership.”

It’s a confounding case for sure, and it only gets weirder from here.

Why Police Towed The Imported Nissan Skyline

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The backstory, according to the report, begins with this: two automobile importers, Myoung Kim and John Stagnitta, had a longtime business arrangement where Kim, who’s 75, imported cars from Japan and had 51 year-old Stagnitta, operating in Orlando, Florida under the name Black Ops Performance, sell them. (Black Ops’ website is currently blank, having apparently suspended operations in late March.)

It’s unclear how long the relationship went on—the report only describes it as an “extended period of time”—but Kim told police Stagnitta had sold “multiple vehicles” that she had brought into the states. But at some point, the pair’s relationship soured, the report said. It’s not exactly clear why that happened.

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Stagnitta wouldn’t discuss their relationship in detail when reached Wednesday over Facebook. Kim didn’t seem interested in talking, either. When we called the number in the police report listed for Kim, someone answered but then quickly hung up. Repeated calls went straight to voicemail. We were able to reach Kim’s husband on Thursday morning, but he said he’d have to call us back later. We haven’t heard from him yet but will update if we do.

Image Credit: Black Ops Squad (Facebook)

Yet the now-seized red Skyline may be the reason why the business relationship ended on such bad terms. As written in the report, Stagnitta had told Kim he would sell the 1999 Nissan Skyline GT-R for her. (And based on the now-deleted post above, which we found on the “Black Ops Squad,” a car owner’s club related to Black Ops Performance, it appears that he did try to sell the car).

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The report goes on, saying “weeks passed” but Kim didn’t hear back from Stagnitta, so she called him to have her vehicle returned. “Kim got her vehicle back, and she had parked it in her driveway,” the police report says.

It’s not clear exactly when Kim got her car back, but on April 6, according to the report, Kim discovered the Skyline went “missing from her driveway.” She reported the car stolen to the Philadelphia Police Department, which declined to comment on the situation Wednesday.

Kim then contacted Stagnitta, who reportedly “gave her the runaround” by telling her the car was in California, then in Orlando. Kim allegedly flew to both locations, eventually catching up with Stagnitta in Daytona, where the Skyline from her driveway was found at a car show in Daytona Beach. It’s there that police took possession of the car and towed it away to an impound lot, according to the report.

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As of now, it’s stuck in a custody battle, with Kim and Stagnitta at the center.

Photo credit: Daytona Beach Police

According to the report, Kim was able to show the police the Skyline’s Pennsylvania registration and also a picture of a title on her phone. It’s unclear how she’d have been able to register the vehicle considering the U.S.’s strict 25-year import rule, although some R34 Skylines have exceptions there—rare exceptions.

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But Stagnitta told police the car was not Kim’s. Upon being asked if he was the owner, Stagnitta reportedly told officers yes, but that the documentation proving so was all “in a safety deposit box in a bank in Orlando.”

According to the report, Stagnitta told officers he had the “Bill of De-Registration from Japan,” that he’d bought the car from Kim over two years ago, and that he doesn’t believe the car has ever been registered or titled in the U.S.

Image Credit: Black Ops Squad (Facebook)

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We spoke with Stagnitta over Facebook messenger about the situation, and he told us that his team is involved in a lawsuit with Kim, that the car actually belongs to one of his clients (Stagnitta would not tell me if he sold the car to this client, or how the client got the car), and that he thinks the client will get the car back soon.

“As far as the car being stolen,” he told us, “we submitted proof to the Daytona Police Department today showing that the vehicle has been in Florida and was in our possession since July last year. That is why there are no charges pending for car theft.”

“We are confident the vehicle will be recovered by our client shortly. I will contact you with a result of the other lawsuit when it resolves,” he said.

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We asked Daytona police on Thursday morning for an update on the situation. A police spokesperson only told us: “I’ve just been informed that this is a civil matter. So we have nothing to comment on.”

Stagnitta’s Checkered Past

Image Credit: Brevard County Court

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Stagnitta has had previous runs-in with the law. Police in Brevard County, Florida, arrested Stagnitta for schemes to defraud and grand theft, when he sold an unspecified engine to someone on the Internet for $1,200—but allegedly never sent the part. “[The victim] made an agreement to purchase a car engine from John Stagnitta for $1,200 over the Internet,” an affidavit requesting criminal charges states.

“[The victim mailed] the cashiers check to Stagnitta ... on 02/02/04 and Stagnitta received the check on 02/03/04. The check was cashed, however, [the victim] never received the engine which he purchased.” The affidavit went on to say that Stagnitta admitted that he received the funds, and remained adamant that he sent the engine to [the victim], but during an interview he couldn’t provide any proof.

“He admitted to selling the car parts,” the affidavit says, “using the address, phone number and email in this case, but can not provide docs or recall any specifics on the transaction.”

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Court records show Stagnitta struck a plea agreement with prosecutors, and received probation for the grand theft count while the other charges were dismissed. Stagnitta was arrested again for violating his probation in 2006, but was soon after released, according to court records.

When questioned about his past, Stagnitta declined to comment on any legal matters.

Ongoing Lawsuit

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Stagnitta has also been having legal troubles more recently. In March of this year, Stagnitta and his company were sued in Florida state court by a plaintiff named Joshua Velasco-Cariaga for conversion, civil theft, breach of contract and fraud. According to the lawsuit, Stagnitta’s business, Black Ops Performance, allegedly received money from Cariaga last fall to finance the purchase of a “custom vehicle” from Japan.

That money allegedly included a $1,500 initial deposit, and then $25,000, which Black Ops Performance had reportedly told Cariaga to pay as soon as the imported-car dealership had “secured” a car in Japan.

The lawsuit alleges that Black Ops said it would buy the car from Japan last September, but after that, Cariaga was left in the dark. “Between September to present,” the document reads, “Defendants have failed to deliver the custom vehicle, failed to regularly provide updates, and refused to return Plaintiff’s Deposit or the Funds.”

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It goes on, claiming that Stagnitta had never actually purchased the car from Japan, and then mentions this email that the Black Ops Performance chief sent to the client, indicating that the company had spent Cariaga’s money:

Our intention is to refund you but as [I] said we are not in a financial position to do that right away. . . . I have the payment details for our purchases. I would like to talk to you for a few minutes. Since I already have sta[t]ed in writing that we plan to repay you I’ve basically handed you a victory in any legal action.

When we asked Stagnitta over Facebook messenger for a comment, he responded, saying: “The lawsuit is pending so I can’t comment.”

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We Still Have Lots Of Questions

Image Credit: Daytona Beach Police Department

There’s still a lot we don’t know, especially since we haven’t been able to find much of anything on the car importer, Kim.

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Records show she and her husband have had civil judgments filed against them stretching back to the 1980s, but she appears to have no online presence whatsoever. A google search on import-related car forums found only a couple of references to a “Ms. Kim,” but they don’t provide any detail on who she actually is.

We did find that there appears to be ongoing import-related activity operating out of Kim’s listed address in the police report. Shipping records show a company named JDM Exchange Corporation is operating out of the same location in Philadelphia.

A bill of lading from last month shows that used car parts were shipped from Japan to Newark, intended for JDM Exchange, and an eBay user by the name of jdmexchange2005 is currently selling an array of Japanese car parts and shipping them out of the Philly area.

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Stagnitta, in our conversation, suggested he had ongoing litigation against Kim, but we couldn’t verify if a complaint has been filed as of Wednesday. In his Black Ops sendoff, which was posted earlier on Instagram, Stagnitta said he’s “always strived to provide our customers with JDM Cars that are step above the competition.”

“So with deep regret we have suspend operations,” he wrote. “We will still be getting together as a squad at shows and the for cruises. Do your research and watch out for scams and shady importers.”

Update 10:30 P.M. Thursday: I reached Ms. Kim over the phone this evening, and she told me she has the Nissan Skyline back after proving to Daytona police that it’s her car. “I showed all documents. A lot of documents. [The detective] see them. So he release the car,” she told me.

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Kim says she’s now going to figure out how to get the car back to Philadelphia. When I asked what her plans were for the GT-R, she told me she doesn’t know, as she’s preoccupied with cancer treatment. “I’m not thinking anything now, you know? I don’t care [about] that car anymore. Because why?...Because I’m so sick.” she said. “These people tried cheating me, everybody... tried lying. Take away from my property... It’s not right.”

This post has been updated with screenshots where Facebook embeds once were, as Black Ops seems to have disappeared from social media.