‘Bus bandit’ going to prison for stealing motorcoaches

After years of stealing motorcoaches, an Ohio man dubbed the ‘bus bandit” is finally headed to prison.

Derrick Lamont Jones, 57, of Toledo, was sentenced on May 31 to 54 months in prison and ordered to pay $21,702 in restitution by U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary. Jones pleaded guilty to stealing motorcoaches from various businesses and defrauding a church tour group, according to a statement released by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle M. Baeppler.

According to court documents, from 2003 through 2019, Jones conspired together with codefendant Kelly Marie Thomas to steal, conceal and transport motorcoaches. 

The statement said between April 2003 and April 2009, Jones stole several buses from businesses in Ohio and elsewhere, including Ground Transportation Specialists in Taylor, Michigan; Lakefront Lines in Toledo, Ohio; Seniors Unlimited in Pontiac, Michigan; and American Heritage Trails in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Jones had prior experience working as a bus driver and was familiar with the operations of the vehicles. After stealing a bus, the statement said, Jones would take steps to conceal the fact that the bus was stolen, including altering vehicle identification numbers, changing exterior paint, and removing company logos and markings.

Offered charter service

As part of the conspiracy, Jones and Thomas would offer charter bus transportation services to passengers in Ohio and elsewhere through advertisements on the internet, on social media and in local newspapers, according to the statement. 

Jones and Thomas reportedly offered these services under the names of Destiny Tours, Kelly Tours, Marie’s Tours and Travel, Elite Tours and GT Tours. Jones and Thomas purportedly offered these services as compliant with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations when, in fact, they knew that these companies were never incorporated and never received operating authority from the DOT or FMCSA.

In one instance, in December 2017, Jones reportedly entered into a contract with a church group from Toledo for $3,200 to provide charter bus services from Toledo to New York City. Court documents state that Jones received about $2,200 in cash prior to the scheduled departure date of the trip but failed to take the group on the trip and never returned the payment he had received.

Guilty pleas

Jones pleaded guilty to conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen vehicles, violation of FMCSA regulations and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In addition to the prison sentence, Zouhary ordered Jones to pay restitution to the church group that he defrauded and restitution to the various business that owned the buses he stole for damages and bus retrieval costs.

Thomas was previously sentenced to three years of probation for her role in the conspiracy.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jody L. King. It was investigated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Transportation — Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Ohio Division; Ohio State Highway Patrol; Toledo Police Department; and the Michigan State Police. 

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