Korean National Sentenced to 2 Years and 9 months in Prison for “Bust Out” Bank Fraud Scheme in Sacramento Area and Elsewhere
FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury has indicted George Thomas, 70, of Clovis, for selling thousands of stolen catalytic converters to a company in Oregon for over $2.5 million, and then withdrawing the proceeds from his bank accounts in increments under $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced. The indictment was unsealed today following Thomas’s arrest.
According to court records, between January 2021 and November 2022, Thomas purchased stolen catalytic converters from thieves in the Fresno area who cut the converters off people’s vehicles. The thieves called or texted Thomas to arrange the sales, and the sales occurred in parking lots and behind buildings during all hours of the day and night. Thomas paid the thieves significantly below market rates and paid them in cash to conceal the source of the converters.
Thomas gave the thieves instructions on the types of catalytic converters that he was looking for and how to best cut the converters off of vehicles. Thomas also helped some of the thieves buy new saws to use after the thieves’ saws were confiscated by the police or were stolen.
Thomas took photographs of the thieves, and he required them to provide their identification cards and the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) for the vehicles from which the catalytic converters were supposedly cut off. Thomas told the thieves that it did not matter where they got the VINs. For example, in one instance, Thomas said, “It’s supposed to come off the one you got it off of, but it’s up to you what you do. All I need is a VIN number is all.” In other instances, Thomas altered the VINs that thieves gave him to make the VINs look better. Many of the VINs were later determined to be fake or from stolen vehicles.
Thomas drove the stolen catalytic converters to Oregon where he sold the converters to a company that extracted the valuable metals and sold the metals for further processing. Thomas made several misrepresentations to the Oregon company, including that he had purchased the converters from legitimate businesses and that the VINs he provided were for the vehicles from which the converters had been removed.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Clovis Police Department, and the Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Barton and Justin Gilio are prosecuting the case.
If convicted, Thomas faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Anyone with knowledge of Thomas activities is encouraged to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or tips.fbi.gov.