Driver of Scorched Tesla Indicted for Stealing Five Cars | Off Message

Driver of Scorched Tesla Indicted for Stealing Five Cars


The Tesla that burned on Lake Champlain in 2019 - SASHA GOLDSTEIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • The Tesla that burned on Lake Champlain in 2019
"Pizza man" wasn't as dumb as they thought.

Local law enforcement reportedly once gave Michael A. Gonzalez the nickname following an unfortunate 2018 encounter in which he was arrested after confusing a uniformed cop for a pizza delivery driver.

But over the course of the following years, the Colchester man pulled off a series of heists of Tesla electric cars worth a combined $607,000, according to a federal indictment unsealed Friday.

One of the vehicles involved ended up a fireball on the frozen surface of Lake Champlain in winter 2019 in a mysterious incident.

Gonzalez, 32, managed to steal five Teslas by exploiting a company sale procedure that allowed him to take possession of the cars before his bank transfers had cleared. He then swiftly resold them through used car dealerships and online ads for profit, the feds allege. As soon as the previous car sold, Gonzalez bought another one.
According to the indictment:

In September 2018, Gonzalez reserved a Tesla Model 3 that cost $58,200. He made a $2,500 down payment and set up an automated clearing house to transfer to pay the remainder. Prosecutors allege Gonzalez knew his account didn't have the funds to cover the purchase.

Tesla delivered the Model 3 to Burlington and gave Gonzalez the proof-of-ownership paperwork. Days later, the bank rejected the transfer of funds. On December 31, 2018, Gonzalez took the car to a used car dealership in Williston, where he sold it for $42,500.

The same day, he reserved another Tesla — this time, a more expensive Model X worth $144,200 — and received it using the same scheme. Weeks later, he sold that car for $90,000 through Craigslist to someone in South Burlington.

Next, using a Florida address and driver's license, he bought another Model X, for $152,663. He picked this one up from a Tesla dealership in Tampa. But this time, Tesla never provided him with the ownership paperwork needed to register or resell the car.

On February 24, he drove the car onto a frozen portion of Shelburne Bay. The Shelburne Fire Department later found the car engulfed in flames. Gonzalez claimed he'd driven it onto the ice to go ice fishing, heard a hiss, then saw the car catch fire.
The burned Tesla Model X - SASHA GOLDSTEIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sasha Goldstein ©️ Seven Days
  • The burned Tesla Model X
He then submitted an insurance claim for the loss, but failed to show up for an "examination under oath" in which he was required to bring the certificate of ownership. His claim was denied.

But Gonzalez wasn't deterred. In March 2019, he reserved a fourth Tesla — a 2019 Model X — for $136,710 using an Underhill address and another person's driver's license. It worked.

He registered the car with the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles and transferred the title to his own name, claiming he'd acquired it through an "even trade" for a 2013 Kia Optima that was worth about $8,200. He then sold it on eBay for $99,400.

He executed the scheme a fifth time in July 2019. Tesla hired a repossession company in August. Its personnel tracked the vehicle to a Burlington parking garage. Gonzalez fled in the Tesla.

In February 2020, Gonzalez was arrested and jailed on a separate gun charge. When released, he had the car towed from a storage facility in Wolcott to Seabrook, N.H., for what he expected to be another sale.

Once the car arrived, the Seabrook Police Department impounded it as stolen.

Gonzalez has been well known to Vermont police, the Shelburne News reported. In 2018, he approached a uniformed South Burlington cop in a marked police cruiser, mistaking him for a pizza deliveryman. But South Burlington police arrested him on a pending warrant and added charges for possessing drugs, the paper reported.

Friday, a federal judge ordered Gonzalez detained pending a hearing next week. He faces up to 10 years on each count.

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