Auto dealer appears in district court on fraud charges
ST. GEORGE - A St. George auto dealer accused of participating in a plan to obtain investments for his former business through fraudulent promises made his initial appearance on felony charges Thursday in 5th District Court.

Rabbit Downward, 41, the owner of Executive Auto Group Inc., appeared with his attorney Alan Boyack to answer a summons on two counts of communications fraud.

Court documents filed in the case do not explain the specific basis for the charges; however, communications fraud is generally defined as a scheme to obtain money or anything else of value from another person by false pretenses, and then to try to conceal the scheme with another person's assistance.

Deputy County Attorney Jerry Jaeger said the circumstances mirror those leading to similar charges earlier this year against St. George resident Todd Vowell, who owned the business on North Bluff Street when it was named Executive Car Sales Inc.

Downward told The Spectrum in May that Executive Auto replaced Executive Car Sales in 2009 and that Vowell has not been involved with the business since then.

"Executive Auto Group has nothing to do with Executive Car Sales," Downward said.

Jaeger said the charges stem from allegations made by Downward's mother-in-law, Karen Grounds, as part of a lawsuit she filed in 2010 against Downward, Vowell and Vowell's brother, Jason.

Charges have not been filed against Jason Vowell.

Grounds claimed the three men enticed her to invest $600,000 in Executive Car Sales in 2008, including money derived from the value of her home, but the men then failed to abide by the promised terms of repayment.

Grounds claimed she agreed to lend the money in part because of promises Downward, who was a manager at the time, would use a portion of the money to purchase up to 49 percent of Executive Car Sales' stock as a co-owner.

Grounds' lawsuit appears to defend Downward's actions even though he is named as a defendant. When Downward failed to meet the conditions of his loan, he surrendered the stock shares to Grounds, her complaint states, but she alleged the Vowells refused to transfer the stock in her name.

Grounds also alleged the Vowells drew money from the company improperly to fund other businesses they have started.
Originally published June 21, 2012