Car dealership owner convicted in scam

April 13, 2010 9:02:58 PM PDT
The owner of a classic car dealership is convicted of running a scam that cost his victims hundreds of thousands of dollars, and his son will soon face his own charges. Paul Thomas loves a nice car, especially classic ones. He had searched years to find a 1970 Camaro Z 28 RS Coupe.

"Very special, they did not make very many of them," he said.

So when he needed repair work, he found a shop called American Classic Cars in Conroe. He says the owner, Stephen Wood, appeared to have restoration expertise, and his shop was full of beautiful sets of wheels

He went back several times to check on the progress of his prized wheels.

"Everything seemed to be going fine," Thomas said.

But a few weeks later, Wood did something unthinkable.

"He said, 'We've sold your cars.' I said, 'Excuse me? You've done what?' Thomas said. "You sold my car without my authorization or permission?"

Thomas notified authorities.

Prosecutors say Thomas wasn't alone.

Court records list almost two dozen classic car owners with claims similar to Thomas, and in some cases, when the owners actually wanted to sell, they claim they weren't getting paid.

"It's different than a lot of cases we see. It's different than the the robberies, the murders," said Rob Freyer, Montgomery County's chief prosecutor.

Late last week, a jury convicted 68-year-old Wood on two counts of aggregate theft of more than $200,000 in money and cars, and when prosecutors presented the businessman's criminal past in California and Washington, a Montgomery County judge sentenced him to 42 years in prison.

"These were victims that, as it came out in trial, had a business relationship--at least they thought they did with this man," Freyer said.

Woods' 27-year-old son Geoffrey Wood is also charged with two counts of aggregate theft. His case has not yet gone to trial.

Thomas says he considers himself lucky. Conroe detectives got to his Camaro just as it was about to be shipped to France. The VIN number matched but the color didn't anymore.

"The car was actually on the loading dock being prepared to be put in a sea freight container momentarily," he said.

As for the French buyer who was waiting for Thomas' Camaro on the other end, he is out $46,000.

"All the money that has been lost and the heartfelt consideration for some of these people who've lost their pride and joy, I feel very sad for them," Thomas said.

The owner's son Geoffrey Wood is expected back in court next month. If he is convicted on his charges, he faces five years to life in prison.

ABC 13 worked on this story through our partnership with Houston Community Newspapers and the Courier of Montgomery County

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