Suspect in Rock Hill Big A's car fraud in jail again

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJune 20, 2013 

— Bernard Gaston, the Rock Hill car dealer police labeled as the “ringleader” of an auto fraud scheme that possibly cheated customers out of thousands of dollars, is back in jail.

This time, York County prosecutors argued that he violated conditions of his bond when he made contact with one of his alleged victims.

A Circuit Court judge agreed.

During a bond revocation hearing in a York County courtroom on Thursday, Judge Steven John ruled that Gaston, 47, would return to jail.

Gaston cannot receive another bond unless an administrative judge overrules John’s decision, said John Mark Shiflet, assistant 16th Circuit Court solicitor.

Gaston will not be out of jail again until his trial date, or if he enters a guilty plea, Shiflet said.

In March, police arrested Gaston and 11 others associated with Big A’s Auto Sales on Cherry Road after a nearly yearlong investigation revealed they obtained title loans on cars that they later put back on the lot and sold to customers.

The money from the title loans would go back to Gaston, police said.

Those customers did not realize the cars already had titles on them, and thus they were unable to obtain tags or vehicle titles, police said. In some instances, Gaston defaulted on the loans, prompting lenders to repossess the vehicles.

The investigation started in May 2012 after a woman, who was pulled over for driving without a tag, told officers about her difficulties obtaining her car title from Gaston.

Police built a case off the stories of about 25 victims before issuing warrants for Gaston and his wife, mother, brother and several associates.

Gaston left jail on a $40,000 bond under the conditions that he would not contact any of his alleged victims and would not buy or sell cars, Shiflet said.

He allegedly met with a woman – one of his “victims” in the Big A’s scheme – in North Carolina to settle business on a BMW she had purchased, Shiflet said.

The woman contacted police, Shiflet said, saying she had been unable to get her title loan for a car she bought from Gaston several months ago. At some point, there was “communication” between the two, violating Gaston’s bond stipulations.

The woman still did not receive the title but instead wound up paying Gaston more money so he could pay off the title loan, Shiflet said.

But Gaston’s attorney, Rock Hill lawyer Michael Matthews, denied those allegations, saying the woman, in a statement she gave to police, said she initially contacted Gaston so she could receive her car’s title and registration.

He also said Gaston tried to pay off the title loan with “other funds.”

Several of Gaston’s alleged victims who spoke with The Herald said he was charismatic, likable and trustworthy.

Matthews cautioned that “no one should jump to conclusions” about Gaston’s character. He said the police identifying Gaston as the supposed “ringleader” of the scheme “is going against the justice system,” which says he’s presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The solicitor’s office is prosecuting cases for the 11 others accused in connection with the Big A’s scheme.

“Who did what” in the scheme varies, Shiflet said.

He added that there have not yet been any motions for bond revocations for the other defendants.

Since his March arrest, Gaston has faced more charges in unrelated investigations. Police last month accused him of passing a fraudulent $100,000 check and depositing it into a personal Wells Fargo bank account.

The check, police said, had been stolen in the mail from a man in Tennessee who was paying his real estate agents for property he leased.

The check made its way to Gaston, who authorities claim knew it was altered but deposited it anyway.

The check had been made payable to MGB, LLC, a bank account court documents show Gaston used to deposit funds after receiving money from people who wanted him to purchase cars for them.

He is not suspected of stealing the check from the mail or altering it, police said. Police would not say how the check got into Gaston’s possession.

This year alone, three people had filed lawsuits against Gaston, accusing him of reneging on his promise to buy cars for them at auction after they had already paid him.

In 2006, he pleaded guilty in a similar scheme when police say he sold cars with liens on them to at least four people.

He was sentenced in that case to five years’ probation.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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