A new lawsuit filed today in New York federal court against defendants De Tomaso Automobili Holdings N.A. LLC, its majority shareholder, Sung-Fung “Norman” Choi, and others, will reverberate loudly across the world of limited edition, exclusive, multi-million-dollar supercars. Plaintiff Ryan Berris, represented by Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, alleges that although he was enlisted by Choi to help return the De Tomaso brand to its glory days as a prominent luxury manufacturer, he was ultimately deceived by Choi and forced out of his role as co-owner, CEO, and CMO, so that Choi could lay the groundwork for a fraudulent scheme.
The revival of De Tomaso as a world-class luxury automobile manufacturer is one of the most remarkable stories of the past decade in the elite sports car industry. The rebirth was spearheaded by two individuals: Ryan Berris and Norman Choi. Berris is a distinguished brand development and marketing specialist for elite luxury automotive brands and brought with him industry expertise and an extensive network of artisans, designers, engineers, and connoisseurs, all of whom were essential to relaunching De Tomaso. Choi was purportedly a Hong Kong financier who attempted automotive endeavors by purchasing defunct brands, but found himself unable to execute, until he met Berris.
“I dedicated my life to reviving De Tomaso, building one of the world’s timeless supercars and providing opportunities for others,” said Berris. “I turned De Tomaso into a global success only to discover that my entrepreneurial spirit and labor were being exploited as the legacy brand was being pillaged by bad actors.”
Berris’s genuine and tireless efforts made the revived De Tomaso brand (and its flagship P72 model) an international triumph, as he secured high-profile technical partners and strategic hires, and built an oversubscribed order book of discerning clientele. However, Berris contends that De Tomaso’s true potential was undermined by Choi’s repeated financial misconduct. As alleged, Choi became obsessed with trying to take the company public through a fraudulent SPAC process and began to cut corners behind Berris’s back, conjure false financial statements, and mislead the discerning customers who already placed sizeable non-refundable deposits for De Tomaso’s vehicles.
“Ryan Berris nearly single-handedly revived De Tomaso into a world-class, high-performance automaker with an enviable roster of endorsers and customers, and a billion dollar plus valuation, but was paid only a fraction of the compensation he was entitled to and ultimately forced out of the company,” said attorney John T. Zach of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP. “The complaint alleges that this was part of a fraudulent scheme by Norman Choi and others to manipulate the company’s value, engage in a series of non-arm’s length transactions, and cash out.”
As Berris gradually learned of Choi’s ulterior motive, he confronted him and made clear that Choi was destroying the hard work Berris put into De Tomaso. Worse, as alleged in the complaint, Choi was deceiving the company’s clients, creating a product that did not comply with the terms marketed to customers. Rather than address those concerns, the lawsuit contends that Choi worked in concert with others to fire Berris and threaten him with reprisals if he ever disclosed what he knew about what was occurring at De Tomaso.
“As this lawsuit makes clear, defendants capitalized on my industry knowledge, valuable contacts, and marketing expertise to mask their true intention, which was to secure a fraudulent windfall, even if it meant tarnishing the De Tomaso brand’s reputation,” added Berris.
Having spent years working for Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus (SCG) and later helping build Apollo Automobil into a leading hypercar brand, Berris was poised to continue his rise with De Tomaso. Berris alleges that Choi’s reckless conduct undermined the core strength of the re-invented De Tomaso brand—elite craftsmanship and design—and that Choi never intended to invest properly in the company’s growth, but rather sought only to artificially inflate its value and profit from a fraudulent scheme.
This lawsuit is Berris’s stand to shine a light on Choi’s deception and protect the De Tomaso brand and its customers.
The case is Ryan Berris v. De Tomaso Automobili Holdings N.A. LLC, et. al.; Case No. 1:23-cv-04305 in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York. John Zach and David Simons of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP are counsel for Berris.