He’s a Car Dealer With a Surprising Business Record. He’s Also Running for Senate in Ohio.

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The 2015 Aston Martin Vulcan can go from zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds and maxes out at 208 mph. Only 24 of the two-door, two-seater carbon-fiber British speedsters were ever made, each with a $2.3 million price tag.

They also aren’t street legal in the United States. Since the car doesn’t comply with the Clean Air Act’s emissions standards, importing one requires an EPA exemption. Aston Martin was granted just nine between March 2015 and February 2017, on the condition they be used “solely for competition.”

But on a sunny day in November 2015, Bernie Moreno took a shiny new cherry-red Vulcan—part of his “personal collection,” a local reporter noted—for a spin outside Cleveland. At least three police cars escorted Moreno down usually busy suburban streets.

At the time, the flashy outing helped publicize Moreno’s massive portfolio of car dealerships in Ohio, where the multimillionaire is currently the Republican nominee for US Senate. Those dealerships, along with others in Florida, Kentucky, and Massachusetts, helped make Moreno a very wealthy man. So far, he’s loaned his own campaign $4.5 million of its $10.9 million war chest, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Moreno’s campaign did not respond to questions about the legality of the joyride. Public records from North Olmsted, the suburb Moreno spun through, provide no indication Moreno ever paid it or its police for the escort or road closures. And while the campaign says Aston Martin was responsible for importing the car, and the company insists it did so legally, Moreno once said the opposite.

“Nobody’s here from the EPA, right? Good,” Moreno winkingly asked a crowd gathered to admire the Vulcan at a 2016 event. “The car’s actually not legally allowed to be in the United States. It is now, but it wasn’t back in October when we got the car,” he boasted in a little-noticed video. “We shipped it in as car parts,” he said, explaining that the steering wheel, worth $20,000 on its own, had been imported separately for the purpose of skirting EPA regulations.

For its part, Aston Martin says a new steering wheel was later sent to replace a faulty one originally imported with the car. But in boasting about such a gambit, Moreno—a big spender whose holdings include pricey Florida real estate—displayed a Trump-like belief that following legal requirements is optional, if you’re witty or wealthy enough to work around them.

While the two businessmen-turned-politicians share a love of expensive cars—and legal histories that include workplace lawsuits, undisclosed settlements, and attacks on judges—they didn’t always see eye to eye. In 2016 Moreno called Trump a “maniac” and said, “There’s no scenario in which I would support Trump.” In 2021, he said Trump deserved “lots and lots of blame” for the January 6 attack on the Capitol. But Moreno didn’t hold a grudge. In 2022, his daughter married Max Miller—a former Trump aide who’s now an Ohio congressman—at Trump’s New Jersey golf club. Six months later, Moreno donated $100,000 to Trump’s super-PAC. Nine months after that, Trump backed Moreno in a GOP primary packed with competitors who local party officials believed would be stronger candidates. “I wear with honor my endorsement from President Trump,” he said in March, just after trouncing them all.

Bernie Moreno, Republican candidate for Senate, speaks at the Columbiana County Lincoln Day Dinner in Salem, Ohio on Friday, March 15, 2024. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty

Moreno represents Trump’s takeover of the party in more ways than one. Once he favored pathways to legalization for undocumented immigrants; today he supports Trump’s mass deportation scheme. Once he backed LGBTQ rights, noting that Modern Family helped him understand his gay son; today, he’s accused LGBTQ rights advocates of advancing a “radical” agenda of “indoctrination,” according to the Associated Press, which recently reported that someone using Moreno’s work email created a profile seeking gay sex on a dating site in 2008. (His staff blamed a former intern—one who gave his campaign more than $6,500 last year.) Moreno, who once bemoaned the homogeneity of Cleveland-area boardrooms and claimed he benefited from diversity initiatives as a Colombian immigrant, now pledges to “end wokeness.”

Moreno’s contest with incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown—whom he derides as an “old commie”—is key to Democrats’ hopes of holding the Senate. Brown, who lambastes rich executives for decimating American manu­facturing, union jobs, and the middle class, has a slight polling lead and a long alliance with organized labor; he rallied with United Auto Workers strikers last fall across Ohio as they won major concessions. But none of that has stopped Moreno from claiming he’d be the best advocate for Ohio workers; after all, as he said in a primary debate, he’s “employed thousands” of them.

But Moreno’s record as a boss could prove to be a liability. “For him to come out now and say that he’s this champion of working-class people—he’s a liar, and we call out liars,” says Tony Totty, president of UAW Local 14, which represents about 1,400 General Motors employees in northwest Ohio.

“For him to come out now and say that he’s this champion of working-class people—he’s a liar.”

In February 2015, Omar Adem was hired to sell Mercedes-Benzes at a Moreno dealership in Burlington, Massachusetts. According to a complaint Adem later filed, sales team members were regularly required to stay after shifts and report in on days off. But Moreno’s company, according to Adem’s complaint, refused to pay overtime if they earned commissions that matched or exceeded what they were owed. In November 2022, a judge ordered Adem and another employee be paid $416,160 in damages after a jury found both the dealership and Moreno individually liable for shorting pay.

In court, Moreno initially defended the pay practices, saying he acted in good faith and “committed no violation of law.” But during the trial, he was forced to admit to shredding overtime-­payment records—documents the judge ruled he had been “required to preserve” and that he and his lawyers “knew or should have known [were] relevant.” On the campaign trail, Moreno has slammed that judge, a Republican appointee, as a “lunatic activist.” He has also assailed the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld the state’s overtime rules in a related case, as “liberal,” even though five of its seven justices had been appointed by GOP Gov. Charlie Baker.

Before launching his 2024 run, Moreno settled more than a dozen other Massachusetts wage theft cases, all for undisclosed amounts. “When you’re stiffing workers out of their well-earned overtime pay, you’re a fraud,” says Totty.

While his campaign asserts that, “as a proud minority businessman,” Moreno has “always been committed to giving opportunities to all of his workers, regardless of race, color, gender, or creed,” several of his Ohio employees have alleged workplace bias and mistreatment. Cara Wilson, an Akron-area mother, sued Moreno for gender discrimination and wrongful termination after spending three months overhauling a ­struggling Acura dealership. Her suit alleged that, unlike “prior male managers,” she was “not permitted to make critical decisions” yet was nonetheless “blamed for the dealership’s poor performance.” Moreno told her she was “a bad leader but a better mother,” Wilson alleged, and another time angrily told her to “put your kids in fucking daycare.”

In June 2017, Ronell Thompson sued Moreno’s companies alleging “racially discriminatory pay practices” at an Infiniti dealership. After Thompson complained a white colleague with a lower title earned as much as he did, he received repeated warnings about his own performance based on false data, according to his lawsuit, before being demoted, transferred, given a pay cut, and ultimately fired.

In a third lawsuit, 67-year-old Dolores Wolfe alleged she was treated differently “based on her age.” Her lawsuit says she had an award-winning sales record and that Moreno and his associates repeatedly agreed to promote her, but instead gave more senior titles and professional opportunities to “younger, male employees.” Eventually, Wolfe landed a job out of state and furnished a house there, her filing says, before Moreno flew in to meet her with a promise to promote her and pay her more if she stayed. Her complaint says she called off her move, but Moreno “never provided” a new position.

Moreno settled these cases for undisclosed amounts, and now calls two of these three plaintiffs—none of whom responded to requests to comment—close friends; Wilson even hosted a fundraiser for the boss she once sued.

He can afford to be generous. Born into a politically powerful Bogotá family with what Cleveland.com called “lavish generational wealth,” Moreno became one of the largest luxury car dealers in the Midwest. When he sold off most of his dealerships in 2019, he likely made “a couple hundred million bucks,” according to Automotive News. Public filings show he’s currently worth between $25 million and $100 million, including a stake in Dryver, a chauffeuring app.

As for the Vulcan, Moreno’s Aston Martin dealership put it up for sale in 2016 for $3.4 million—90 times what the average Ohio worker makes each year. It’s unclear what Moreno is driving these days, but Brown can be found behind the wheel of a Jeep Cherokee—assembled in Toledo by UAW members.