ROCK HILL — Two more people were arrested and charged Thursday in connection with a Rock Hill car fraud scheme that possibly bilked thousands of dollars from customers and investors for nearly a year.
Yvonne Wallace, 50, of Charlotte and Alexis Brandon, 28, of Rock Hill both turned themselves in to police Thursday morning, Rock Hill Police Lt. Brad Redfearn said. They are both charged with one count each of obtaining goods by false pretenses.
This week, Rock Hill Police and the State Law Enforcement Division jointly issued 45 warrants for 12 people in connection with the scheme, in which employees and associates of Big A's Auto Sales on Cherry Road sold cars that already had title loans to customers. Customers didn't realize the cars already had loans on them, police said, until the loans defaulted and title lenders started repossessing the vehicles.
Police started their investigation last May after stopping a woman without a title or tag who said she was working with Big A's to get both.
Between Monday and Tuesday, police officers and SLED agents arrested nine of the 12 people accused in the scheme, including 47-year-old Bernard Gaston, who police say acted as the "ringleader" of the conspiracy. By Wednesday evening, authorities were still waiting to serve warrants on three others.
Wallace was released from jail Thursday afternoon on a $1,000 bond. Brandon received a $2,000 personal recognizance bond before she was taken to the York County Detention Center and slapped with charges from SLED.
Its unclear just how many people possibly fell victim to the car fraud scheme. Court records show that Gaston had served a probationary sentence several years ago in connection with a similar scheme that cheated four people who bought cars with liens already on them.
But the impact of the scheme goes beyond what court records show.
Sandra Knox, wife of the late Willie Knox, who started Knox Bail Bonding Agency in Rock Hill, said her husband invested $25,000 in cars Gaston planned to buy from auction back in 2008.
Knox said Gaston promised to give her husband his money back with interest once the cars were sold.
But after the cars were bought, the money never came. The Knoxes kept bills of sales and receipts showing that they had paid Gaston the money. When they asked about their payment, he kept saying, oh, we havent sold the cars yet.
Sandra Knox doesnt remember ever seeing the cars on the lot of Team 1 Autos on Saluda Street. Later, she learned that the cars had been sold in Charlotte and Gaston pocketed the money, she said.
Willie Knox, who was ill when he made the investment in April 2008, died three months later. He was 76. One of the last things he said before dying, his wife said, was, Try to get my money from Bernard.
The cars are gone and the moneys gone, Sandra Knox said.
Some (victims) worked all year to get their income tax to buy a car to get from A to B, to and from work, and then (the Gastons) take their money like that, she said. I feel sad for the people who did that.
Gaston, released from jail Wednesday on a $40,500 bond, has been charged with disposal of property under lien, permitting the misuse of certificate of title, two counts of obtaining goods under false pretenses, two counts of permitting the misuse of a title, criminal conspiracy and failure to deliver certificate of title.
His wife, Mia Gaston, who left jail Wednesday on a $61,000 bond, faces 16 charges, including nine counts of disposal of property under lien and seven counts of permitting misuse of certificate of title.
Police charged Big A's owner, Anthony Neely, with disposal of property under lien and permitting misuse of certificate of title. He maintains that he didn't know about the fraud and doesn't believe in cheating people out of their money.
Also arrested and charged:
Willie Gaston, Bernard Gastons brother, charged with forging or counterfeiting certificate of title and breach of trust, released Monday on $8,000 bond;
Sadie Gaston, Bernard Gastons mother, charged with breach of trust and altering, forging or counterfeiting certificate of title, released on $8,000 bond;
Dontay Clifton, charged with obtaining property under false pretenses, released Tuesday on $3,000 bond;
Tenevia Morris, 30, charged with breach of trust with fraudulent intent; giving false information, and altering/forging certificate of title, released on $8,000 bond;
Angela Smith, charged with two counts of altering, forging a counterfeiting certificate of title and two counts of breach of trust, released on $8,000 bond, and
Carlos Easter, a former employee at Big As, charged with obtaining goods under false pretenses and released Tuesday on a $5,000 bond.
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082