An Ohio pair is accused of using stolen buses and fake tour companies to scam customers for 16 years.
U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman announced that a federal grand jury in Cleveland has returned an 11-count indictment against Derrick Lamont Jones, 56, and Kelly Marie Thomas, 50, both of Toledo. They were charged with conspiracy to transport stolen vehicles, possession of stolen vehicles, operating a chop shop, violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to the indictment, from 2003 to 2019, the defendants are accused of stealing charter buses, altering and disguising them to avoid law enforcement detection and organizing and marketing for-profit trips without incurring the cost of legitimately obtaining charter buses.
The defendants allegedly purported to own several motorcoach companies that offered and provided charter transportation to passengers in Ohio, including Destiny Tours, Kelly Tours, Marie’s Tour’s and Travel, Elite Tours and GT Tours.
At no point were the defendants’ companies ever incorporated under the laws of any state, including Ohio, and at no point did any of these companies receive FMCSA operating authority or complete the FMCSA registration process, states the indictment.
The defendants allegedly defaced, disguised and removed the identity of the stolen motorcoach buses by painting over previous bus company logos and markings. After having stolen and defaced the buses, the defendants allegedly advertised charter passenger transportation services on the internet and social media, and in local newspapers.
Money collected, no trip
The defendants are accused of contracting with a Toledo-based church group to provide charter bus service from Toledo to New York. This trip never took place, and money collected by the defendants prior to the trip was never returned, according to the indictment.
The indictment also alleges Jones stole buses from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. He then transported them to chop shops in Ohio and Michigan on numerous occasions between 2003 and 2018. Thomas and Jones would then deface the buses by painting them, swapping license plates and stripping VIN numbers.
Many of the stolen or relabeled buses were found in the northwest Ohio or southeast Michigan area.