FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A federal grand jury has indicted a Clovis man accused of making millions of dollars by selling stolen catalytic converters.
Authorities say George Thomas was one of the biggest local buyers of the ripped off parts.
The 70-year-old is now in custody.
A newly unsealed indictment claims he bought and sold thousands of stolen catalytic converters from the Fresno County area, making more than $2.5 million from the stolen parts.
"This is the biggest one, I think, that we've ever been involved with." Clovis Police Sergeant Josh Richards said.
Clovis Police Sergeant Josh Richards says the investigation has been ongoing for more than a year.
According to the documents, Thomas ran the operation under his company "G&G Business Venture LLC", which operated out of his home near Willow and Nees Avenues.
The indictment shows Thomas arranged to buy the stolen catalytic converts through calls and texts and would meet the sellers in shopping center parking lots and behind buildings.
"It was happening daily and multiple people throughout the day." Sgt. Richards said. "He met usually the same people over and over they just keep coming back with new catalytic converters."
Investigators say Thomas gave sellers instructions on the type of converters he was looking to purchase and how to best cut the parts off vehicles.
He also helped some of the thieves buy electric saws to use.
"I had personally stopped him with probably almost 50 catalytic converters in the back of his truck." Sgt. Richards said.
Sgt. Richards says Thomas had documentation alleging he purchased the converters legally, but they later discovered VIN numbers were fake or from stolen vehicles.
Investigators allege Thomas knew they were stolen because he told one seller he didn't care where the VIN came from saying, "'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.'"
"He was one of the biggest guys in the Fresno area that was buying these catalytic converters and taking them across state lines and selling them." Sgt. Richards said.
Because Thomas took the parts to Oregon to sell them, Clovis Police alerted the FBI, which took over the federal investigation.
Officials say Thomas tried to quietly withdraw the more than $2.5 million he made by taking money out in increments under $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements.
Officials say because Thomas misrepresented how he got the catalytic converters, the Oregon company extracted the metals and sold them for further processing, so there's no way to get them back to potential victims.
If convicted, Thomas faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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