Back in 2019, a picture of a charred Tesla Model X in the middle of a frozen lake in Vermont resulted in a lot of electric vehicle enthusiasts scratching their heads in confusion. Very few details were made public, though the police noted back then that the owner of the vehicle drove the Model X to the lake, where it supposedly struck a rock and caught fire.
The incident was pretty strange, partly because the car fully burned up without melting the ice and falling into the frozen lake. Little information was also available about the owner of the vehicle, though it was reported that no one was injured in the incident. Recently, the mysteries surrounding this peculiar Model X fire were explained, and by the Department of Justice, no less. Needless to say, the truth in this particular Model X fire was stranger than fiction.
According to the US Attorney’s Office in Vermont, the Model X was actually part of a pretty expansive scam executed by 32-year-old Michael A. Gonzalez of Colchester, Vermont. The scam involved Gonzalez acquiring Teslas by exploiting a procedure adopted by the company that allowed him to take deliveries of vehicles before his bank transfer was fully cleared.
As per a report from Seven Days, Gonzalez’s breakthrough came in September 2018, when he reserved a Tesla Model 3 that cost $58,200. To acquire the vehicle, the scammer paid Tesla a $2,500 downpayment and set up an automated payment scheme to draft the vehicle’s monthly payments. Tesla delivered the Model 3, and days later, Gonzalez’s fund transfers were rejected by the bank. The vehicle was taken around December 2018 to a used car dealership, where Gonzalez sold it for $42,500.
Fresh from his successful scam, Gonzalez decided to go for a bigger prize next: a Tesla Model X. Using the same playbook, he was able to acquire a Model X worth $144,200. Tesla delivered the vehicle, and weeks later, Gonzalez was able to sell the all-electric SUV through Craigslist for $90,000.
Remember the burned X on a frozen lake?
The U.S. Secret Service found that the owner Michael Gonzalez, 32 tricked Tesla's purchasing system. He ordered cars and had them delivered, but never allowed the final payment. He then resold the vehicles to companies and individuals. pic.twitter.com/ko5ezTYgAw
— Alex (@alex_avoigt) August 31, 2021
According to investigators, the Model X that ended up on the frozen lake was actually the third Tesla in Gonzalez’s scheme. It was a vehicle worth $152,663, the scammer’s most expensive yet. But while he was able to pick up the car in Tampa, Tesla did not provide Gonzalez with the ownership paperwork needed to register or resell the car. In response to this, Gonzalez reportedly took the car to a frozen section of Shelburne Bay, where it was later found in flames.
The gutsy Gonzalez actually filed an insurance claim for the Model X’s loss, but he never showed up for a required examination under oath where he was required to bring the electric vehicle’s certificate of ownership. Ultimately, the claim was denied.
Not to be discouraged, Gonzalez went for a fourth Tesla in March 2019, another Model X for $136,710. This time around, he used another person’s driver’s license and another address. Tesla delivered the vehicle, and it was registered with the Vermont DMV. Gonzalez then transferred the Model X’s title under his own name, claiming that he had acquired it through an “even trade” with an $8,200 2013 Kia Optima. The Model X was sold on eBay for $99,400.
Unfortunately for Gonzalez, his streak ended when he initiated his scam for the fifth time in July 2019. Tesla eventually hired a repossession company, and the vehicle was tracked to a Burlington garage. The scammer fled, though he was later arrested in February 2020 on a separate gun charge. Upon his release, he had the Tesla towed from a storage facility for what he believed was another sale. The Seabrook Police Department was not having it by this time, and they proceeded to impound the Model X.
As per the US Department of Justice, Gonzalez is currently being charged with five counts of possessing and selling stolen motor vehicles. He is ordered detained by United States Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Doyle pending a detention hearing next week, and he is at risk of facing ten years in prison for each count of possessing and selling stolen cars.