You may recall the story of a Tesla Model X that burned down on the frozen surface of Lake Champlain’s Shelburne Bay in Vermont in February of 2019. The police report at the time stated that the owner drove the Model X onto the lake to fish, and the car struck a rock. Sometime after that, it combusted (surprisingly, without falling through the ice). Nobody was hurt, and that’s really all anyone knew.
On Friday a Vermont man named Michael Gonzalez was indicted for stealing $607,000 worth of Teslas between September 2018 and January of this year, according to the District of Vermont U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Gonzalez allegedly acquired the cars by making down payments, then faking payment of the outstanding balance by pulling from phony accounts, or accounts with insufficient funds. He then supposedly sold, or tried to sell, four of the five Teslas in his possession.
Any guess what may have happened with the one Gonzalez couldn’t get rid of? Here’s the charge, according to the attorney’s office:
Gonzalez took delivery of the vehicles from Tesla before Tesla discovered his failure to complete the final payments. Gonzalez resold or attempted to resell four of the five vehicles. Gonzalez was never issued the necessary paperwork to resell the fifth vehicle, which subsequently burned on a frozen portion of Shelburne Bay on February 24, 2019. Gonzalez attempted to claim insurance funds for the value of this burned Tesla, but the insurance claim was denied.
Prosecutors say Gonzalez acquired these vehicles “from dealerships in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Florida.” Tesla doesn’t technically have dealerships, calling retail locations “stores” instead. In some states where direct sale stores aren’t allowed, the company operates “galleries,” where visitors can check out display models yet are prohibited from even so much as discussing buying one. Crucially, Tesla operates stores in each of those four states, and the attorney’s office has confirmed to Jalopnik that these transactions happened at retail locations and not through Tesla’s website.
At the time the fire occurred, a user on the Tesla Motors Club forum who had witnessed it shared their story, as well as the image seen at the top of this post. Some respondents were skeptical of the supposed course of events — as forum users tend to be — and theorized possible insurance fraud. In this instance, they may have guessed right. Or, perhaps this particular Tesla just got extremely unlucky during an ice fishing journey, and its demise had nothing to do with the fact this individual allegedly had a hard time flipping it.
Gonzalez is facing five counts of sale and possession of stolen motor vehicles, according to the attorney’s office, and up to 10 years in custody for each count if convicted. Jalopnik reached out to Gonzalez’s lawyer, Chandler Matson, and we’re awaiting comment.