Representatives of Mercedes Benz of Buckhead are happy to have a stolen car back and have helped collar one of two suspects involved in a crime ring that could include the fraudulent purchases of dozens of vehicles.
Starting about Oct. 7, Nicholas Lee Thomas, claiming he was president of McIntosh Medical LLC, a Buckhead-based medical device company, met with Sales Associate Malcom Mackey and Finance Director Bryan Brazdo about buying a 2014 Mercedes Benz S550, priced at $150,000, as part of McIntosh’s fleet of vehicles.
According to Brazdo and General Sales Manager Kevin Deutsch, Thomas brought all the required documents to prove he represented McIntosh and that the company had the finances to qualify to buy the car.
“The guy comes in sharply dressed, nice suit, nice shoes,” Brazdo said. “[He] looked and acted the part of a president of the company. … We explain to him that the lender wants a personal guarantor on the loan. I said, ‘This is what’s required.’ … He comes back with audited financial statements by Deloitte. The company was rated by Dun and Bradstreet. He had articles of incorporation showing he was the president of the company. He had all the required documents for the deal. We turn the documents over to the bank, Mercedes Financial. The company’s got $5 million [in assets]. We told him he had to put $15,000 [down].”
Brazdo said Thomas wanted to pay no money down but did bring in a deposit check. The dealership also required two signatures on a corporate resolution form, so Thomas brought in Clifford Dewayne Waller, claiming to be McIntosh’s vice president, to sign that document, he said. Thomas bought the car Oct. 15.
“Everything seems fine. A few days to a week go by and the check bounces,” Brazdo said. “I call the guy and he says it’s an issue with his bank. He calls me back and says, ‘Call this woman. She’s my personal banker.’ I call this number and a lady answers the phone and I can’t remember the name of the bank but she says, ‘This is Julie. This was a bank error. They were moving some money around different accounts.’ She said the check should be good so redeposit it.
“So we try to redeposit it and it bounces again. About the same time, we get a call from Mercedes Financial and they said, ‘You may want to dig a little deeper.’ … Long story short, we figure out the deal is fraudulent. ... The guy bought 15 to 20 cars from different dealers all over the city. We were the only dealership that required a down payment check. So I … find out the company had filed charges against this guy.”
Deutsch said Thomas had used the same scheme to buy a car fraudulently from a south Georgia dealership a year ago. As of Sunday, Thomas was still listed as the registered agent for McIntosh on the secretary of state’s website, but he was not listed as one of the company’s officers.
Jared Thomas, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said Monday McIntosh has had its registered agent’s name changed five times since April, with Nicholas Thomas and Michael Gebel’s names used. Jared Thomas said anyone, as long as they have the proper documentation, can change the articles of corporation for a business.
“It’s usually when … two [business] partners are not getting along and they change the names to say ‘I’m now the CEO.’ We don’t see a ton of fraud like this but there is some vulnerability in the way the [Georgia] code is written and we’re open to discussion to change it.”
Nov. 1, the Mercedes dealership filed a stolen vehicle report with the Atlanta Police Department. In the days before the report was filed, Brazdo said he called Nicholas Thomas to try to convince him to return to the dealership to straighten out the check problem.
“I told him, ‘That’s a felony.’ We don’t want to ... call the police,” he said. “[The suspect said], ‘I just bought three Tahoes and they signed three $5,000 rebate checks. Can I use those?’’ I said, ‘Absolutely. When can you be here?’ He said he wanted to FedEx them.
“Long story short, he missed three appointments but then he calls on a Saturday [Nov. 2] and says he will come in [that day]. Then he actually showed up. It was like I saw a ghost. We couldn’t believe it.”
So Brazdo said he had Nicholas Thomas go into Deutsch’s office and called Deustch on his cell phone, since he was in another part of the dealership.
“Obviously my response is, ‘This dude is not coming in.’” Deutsch said. “I’m over in the shop and Bryan calls me and says, ‘Kevin, he’s here. I’ve got him back in your office.’ I said, ‘Give me a minute. I’m on the other side of the dealership.’ I called 911 and gave them my information. The officer who had taken the information the night before [Craig Hannula] was in the area and on duty. He showed up within five minutes. The officer and I walked into my office together, Bryan walked out of the office and the officer placed him under arrest on the spot.”
After Nicholas Thomas was arrested, he informed police the Mercedes was in Atlantic Station, and the car he drove to the dealership was also stolen and had the keys to the Mercedes and two other vehicles, Deutsch said.
“It’s turned over to a detective,” he said of the case. “The detective and I talked. After interrogating him, the suspect has already rolled over on [his alleged accomplice, Waller]. … The police scour Atlantic Station and they find the car. They’re going to release the car back to me, so Bryan and I go with proper identification and meet with the police.
“We go to meet the police and identify the car. It’s full of stuff, but most of all, inside the car, there [are] another eight or 10 car keys and the paperwork to go with them they had stolen in the same manner, along with the [thumb drive] that held all the financial data for the company they had ripped off. When it’s all said and done and we leave in our car, we do find out from Atlanta Police that the Secret Service has taken over the investigation and this is much deeper and larger than anyone must know.”
In an email, Officer John Chafee, a spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department, declined a reporter’s request to interview Hannula because the investigation is still open.
Agent Dione Neely, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service's Atlanta office, confirmed the agency is now handling the case but could not provide more information on it.
“It’s an open investigation and we cannot comment," she said.
As for the dealership, Brazdo and Deutsch were relieved to get the car returned safely.
“It was a phenomenal scam. … We were very fortunate that we caught it that quick because our processes are that quick,” Deutsch said. “In the 32 years I’ve [been in this business], it’s the cleanest, best scam I’ve ever seen.”
Brazdo, who has worked in automobile sales for 18 years, said, “We’ve seen a lot of potential fraud. We prevent a lot of potential fraud people try to get by us, but this guy was the swiftest individual we’ve ever had. To get through this system is difficult. Who knows if another 20 people are associated with this? ... The same day we apprehended him, he bought five cars from [a] Rick Case [dealership]. We’re just excited to have the car back.”