Internal Revenue Service agents in conjunction with local Van Buren County Sheriff deputies raided the corporate offices of Torco Race Fuels on Thursday.
The Kalamazoo Gazette reported in a copyrighted story that Steven Moore, a spokesman for the criminal investigations division of the IRS, said the federal agents executed a search warrant at Knoll’s business office in downtown Decatur, Michigan.
Van Buren County Undersheriff Paul Edwards was contacted by the IRS, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette, in order to provide what the Kalamazoo Gazette reported as a “uniformed presence”.
Lawrence Wilson, an attorney in Ada, Michigan, confirmed with CompetitionPlus.com that he's the attorney for Evan Knoll.
Wilson characterized today's incident as a visit by the IRS and not a raid. The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that as many as 20 uniformed deputies from the Van Buren County Sheriff's Department accompanied the IRS on the visit.
“The IRS is looking into some of the financial problems that were [attributed] to the previous C.F.O. Preston Latrell [sic]," explained Lawrence Wilson, Evan Knoll's attorney, transposing the first and last name of Latrell Preston. "He was fired by the company back in April. The new management has been uncovering stuff that has been questionable. Some of the stuff that he was doing, some of the finances that he was handling and such ... some of the money going out of the company. It was questionable who was benefiting from some of the payments.
“With the I.R.S., when he was C.F.O. [Preston], he failed to make payments to the I.R.S. on corporate tax obligations. That's what I suspect. I haven't seen the subpoena yet they used ... but they were looking for those files in particular related to those tax obligations."
Wilson said the IRS visit was more related to the C.F.O. than Knoll himself. The attorney for Knoll alleges Preston embezzled money from the company.
Preston was contacted by CompetitionPlus.com to respond to the allegations, but declined to comment in detail until he could speak with his attorney. He adamantly denies any charges of impropriety and says the truth will come out soon.
CompetitionPlus.com left message with Preston's attorney Tom Gezon, who has yet to return the phone call.
Knoll reportedly suffered a head injury in a single-car accident in 2004 and recurring medical complications forced him to step aside from the day-to-day operations of Torco in January of this year.
"Since the car accident, he pretty much turned over the day-to-day operations to Preston Latrell," Wilson continued. "Preston Latrell [sic] being a banker by trade ... basically because of the problems he [Knoll] had with his head injury ... turned over the day-to-day operations to Preston Latrell expecting him to be a friend and do the right thing. This guy saw lots of money going through the business and basically decided to help himself to it. In the process, he failed to pay legitimate tax obligations that Evan thought and had expected were paid or current at the time."
Wilson said he wasn't aware whether or not Knoll was under any federal investigation at this time.
"I'm sure they are looking at everyone right now," Wilson added. "I'm pretty confident once they discover who was signing stuff and who was handling the finances for the company for the past year; it's going to be quite evident Evan wasn't the man directing any of the cash flow.
"This all happened this morning so we are trying to sort through everything," Wilson admitted. "When we had new management take over, we saw things that just didn't seem right to us. I guess we are kind of glad that the IRS came in because instead of us having to go seek out the F.B.I. for embezzlement charges, hopefully the I.R.S. will follow up since they are looking into the finances. In a way this was a blessing because we were wondering how we were going to bring these people ... this Preston Latrell [sic] and some other people that Evan had trusted the business to that misused the funds. We were wondering how we could get the IRS or FBI to look into this and trying to figure who the real culprits were.
"Once the IRS will go through their initial looking of the documents, they will start asking us questions so we can assist them in the investigation."
Knoll’s rise to prominence in drag racing as a major sponsor begin in 2004 and lasted through 2007, at which time the company suspended all major sponsorships citing his declining health.
Knoll’s companies were hit with three federal lawsuits since April 2007 alleging contract breaches. Liens have also been filed by contractors against Knoll for unpaid invoices related to his new $2 million home under construction in Decatur.
The Kalamazoo Gazette reported the following active lawsuits against Knoll:
• A New Jersey-based racing team alleges in a claim filed last week that Torco failed to make good on a one-year sponsorship agreement it signed last year for the 2008 racing season. Foley and Lewis Racing Inc. claims Torco failed to make more than $1.2 million in promised payments and that "Knoll fraudulently induced plaintiff to enter into the agreement when he knew from the outset that defendants would not fulfill their contractual obligations."
• Chase Equipment Leasing Inc. claims in a suit filed in June that Knoll and his companies defaulted on a $15.7 million loan made in May 2007 for the purchase of an airplane. The suit said the aircraft was surrendered in April after the default balance reached more than $16.55 million, with interest accruing at nearly $7,600 a day. In a response filed in July, Knoll alleged his signatures were "forged" on the purchase papers by another company official who was "not authorized to make the deal."
• Eastern Aviation Fuels, of North Carolina, alleges in a claim filed in April 2007 that Torco Fuels signed an exclusive product-distribution agreement for it to handle supplies in 15 states. EAF alleges it suffered more than $1 million in damages when Torco continued to sell fuel directly to some customers in that exclusive distribution area. In the lawsuit, lawyers for EAF say the company has "been in contact with persons closely related with the corporate defendant and believes that (Torco is) dissipating the assets of the corporation and driving themselves to bankruptcy." In its response to the lawsuit, Torco claims Eastern Aviation Fuels was unable to handle the business volume.
In the interest of full disclosure, CompetitionPlus.com was formerly sponsored by Torco Race Fuels from December 2004 through February 2008. The internet magazine released Torco Race Fuels from its contract in May based on non-payment of advertising fees.
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