Lincoln muscle car restoration company officials thought they'd found the rare motor that would bring life to a 1971 Plymouth 'Cuda in an eBay post.

The photos and specs on the motor were right and real. Online feedback on previous eBay sales indicated the seller was good for it.

"He had good information to be telling you what he’s got," Lincoln Restore a Muscle Car owner Dave Hall said.

But eight months later, Hall's shop still hasn't received the motor it paid for. 

Investigators believe Hall's company is one of several would-be buyers nationwide duped out of thousands of dollars by the man and his 426 Hemi crate engine.

On Tuesday, Lancaster County prosecutors charged Steven D. Shaull, 59, of Anaheim, with theft by deception over $5,000 after he became the focus of a Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles investigation involving the online sale.

Restore a Muscle Car officials told DMV officials they agreed on Dec. 2, 2015, to buy the engine for $11,500 from a seller on eBay, DMV Investigator Marlan Hohnstein wrote in an affidavit.

Company officials and the seller initially agreed to finalize the sale through eBay and pay via the online payment service, Paypal, the DMV fraud unit investigator wrote.

Later, Shaull asked the buyer to wire the money directly to a U.S. Bank account to avoid Paypal fees, investigators said.

The buyer wired the money on Dec. 9, and Shaull sent an email saying he got the money and would send paperwork as soon as the shipper picked up the engine, the affidavit said.

The muscle car company still hasn't received its engine.

"Since the sale, Steven Shaull made multiple empty promises to ship the motor, or then refund the money, none of which has actually happened," Hohnstein wrote in the affidavit.

As he investigated, he said, he learned that the address Shaull listed was for sale and the building in Long Beach, California, was vacant.

Text messages Shaull sent to one of Hall's employees in December and January said he was trying to get the engine to Lincoln but was on business or vacation in Michigan, Arkansas or Oklahoma, Hohnstein said.

"It was just one excuse after another," Hall said.

Cellphone tower records told a different story: that he was actually in Anaheim, the investigator said.

A detective there learned that Shaull had been staying at a motel in southwest Anaheim but was unable to talk with him.

Shaull called the detective back, agreed to meet with him and said he'd bring a receipt showing the money had been refunded, Hohnstein said.

Then, he said, Shaull canceled the meeting saying he had a doctor's appointment, and attempts to reach him since have been unsuccessful.

During his investigation, Hohnstein found other people who purchased the same engine listed on eBay but never received anything.

A New York man said he lost $11,900 he sent to Shaull in November 2015, the affidavit said.

A Kentucky man also wired Shaull money for the same Hemi motor in early December, but never received anything.

Bank records show that a man from northern California wrote Shaull a check for $15,000 for a car project promised to quickly double the man's investment, the affidavit said.

That man told Hohnstein nothing materialized, and he can't find Shaull to talk about the project, the affidavit said.

The investigator also found a man from Tunjunga, a Los Angeles suburb, who said he gave Shaull $6,000 and his 1953 Ford Country Wagon valued at $14,000 for the Anaheim man to work on last year, the affidavit said.

That man can't find his sedan and believes it was taken after Shaull was taken to court and evicted from his building in Long Beach last year, Hohnstein said. 

On Tuesday, a Lancaster County judge issued a warrant for Shaull's arrest.

Authorities in California arrested Shaull Friday night, Hohnstein said.

Hall's shop ended up buying a motor from a shop in Omaha, one that wasn't available in December, he said.

Hall hopes this incident can serve as a lesson to others that precautions such as sales in escrow or having purchases inspected before buying online can prove safer in the long run.

"The little bit of time is well worth the effort," Hall said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

Reporter

Riley Johnson reports on breaking news and public safety issues in Lincoln and southeast Nebraska.

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