Posted: 6:05 p.m. Thursday, March 14, 2013

Possible victims come forward in car sales-fraud investigation

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Possible victims come forward in car sales-fraud investigation photo
Possible victims come forward in car sales-fraud investigation

By Greg Suskin


Since the story broke on the arrests at a local used car dealer, Rock Hill police said Thursday that the phones are ringing all day with calls from past customers of Big A's Auto Sales.

The Cherry Road car dealer is shut down. Its managers and several employees were arrested in what police called a far-reaching fraud investigation.

Police say Big A's was selling cars that had liens on them, and the buyers didn't even know it.

Here's how police said it worked. Big A's managers, Bernard and Mia Gaston, ran the day-to-day operation of the dealership. Police said family members and friends would take out title loans on some cars and give the loan money to the Gastons. Then Big A's would sell the cars to unsuspecting customers, never giving them the title because the title loan companies had it.

Bernard and Mia Gaston face numerous charges, including disposal of a property under lien and permitting the misuse of a certificate of title.

Police said they could've made roughly $500,000 over a period of several years, largely through title loan applications on cars they had already sold.

When those title loans went into default, repo companies were called to find the cars and repossess them. The problem is -- the people who were driving the cars were not the ones who defaulted on the loans.

"It's frustrating. It hurts everyone involved" said Brent Hulderman, a repo man from Charlotte looking for at least four of the cars sold at Big A's Auto Sales.

Hulderman said he's spent days searching for the cars, but since the innocent customer driving the car doesn't even know there's a lien, it makes it tough.

"These cars are registered to the people involved in this fraud ring, but then resold to random people who are out driving those cars, and there's no way to find out who those people are," he said.

On Thursday, Eyewitness News spoke to Anthony Neely, owner of Big A's Auto Sales. Neely was also charged in the case, but said he didn't run the business, has another full-time job and has nothing to do with what happened.

"I never even knew what a title loan really was until all this stuff came out," Neely said. "I don't want to be known as a fraud or defrauding anybody out of anything. To me, my reputation is everything."

Neely admitted he knew about past charges related to other car lots against the Gastons when he went into business with the Gastons. He called Bernard Gaston a long-time friend who deserved another chance.

On Wednesday, Channel 9 spoke to Bernard Gaston. He said he did nothing wrong and called the accusations against him "lies."

"Nobody lost any money and nobody lost a car. I want my side of the story to come out. The truth," he said.
Gaston said he was eager to explain everything when his lawyer gave him permission to talk about it.

During the 10-month investigation, the Department of Motor Vehicles and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division were also involved. They served 45 arrest warrants on a dozen different people involved with Big A's. Many of them were friends and family members of the Gastons. Two more of them turned themselves in on Thursday.

Channel 9 also learned that both Bernard and Mia Gaston were arrested in February of 2012 in Charlotte. They were charged with multiple counts of altering car titles and selling cars without a license. Several of the charges were dismissed, and both took a plea deal and were given probation.

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