Man who tricked Tesla into giving him 5 free cars and set one on fire on a frozen lake gets 4-year prison sentence

Tesla needs to start acting more like Toyota and GM if it wants to win the electric car race

Michael Gonzalez tricked
Tesla into giving him five of its
electric cars for free, the US Department of Justice says.
David Zalubowski/AP

A 34-year-old man tricked Tesla into giving him five EVs without full payment, the U.S. DOJ said.
The man, Michael Gonzalez, resold a Model 3 and two Model Xs for about $231,900, prosecutors said.
Gonzalez, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday.

A man who managed to trick Tesla into giving him five of its electric cars for free has been sentenced to four years in prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The man, 34-year-old Michael Gonzalez from Vermont, was able to get five brand new EVs from Tesla that were worth over $560,000 in total, the DOJ said. He later resold three of the cars for below sticker prices to unknowing purchasers, including a used car dealership and buyers on eBay and Craigslist for about $231,900 in total, prosecutors said. The vehicles included a 2018 Model 3, and four Model X EVs, according to court records.

Gonzalez got even more crafty when he couldn’t resell one of the EVs because Tesla didn’t give him a certificate of ownership, the authorities allege. Prosecutors said he drove it onto a frozen lake where he set it on fire and later filed an insurance claim on the Tesla, saying he’d taken the vehicle onto Shelburne Bay in Vermont to go ice fishing at night. The claim was denied.

The Vermont man was able to trick Tesla’s payment system by giving it the banking information for accounts with insufficient funds, including some accounts that had less than $110 in them, according to court records. The company then gave Gonzalez the cars before it was clear the man’s banking accounts did not have the full funds to pay off the full balance. Gonzalez ordered the Teslas using different names, including the names of an ex-girlfriend and a woman he fathered a child with, the indictment said. Gonzalez also submitted “false statements” to the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles in order to get the titles to the cars, prosecutors said.

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After his fifth attempt in 2019, Tesla hired a company to repossess one of the Model Xs, but Gonzalez was able to evade the repo men and hide the car in a storage unit, according to the court documents.

Gonzalez pleaded guilty to five charges of possessing and disposing of stolen vehicles. He was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday and has been ordered to pay Tesla about $493,000, as well as another $231,900 to the government, court records show.

The 34-year-old has also faced legal trouble in the past, including over allegations that he lied on a federal firearms application, and aggravated assault with a weapon, according to MarketWatch, which was the first to report on the Tesla case.

A spokespeople for Tesla and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont, as well as Gonzalez’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider ahead of publication.

Gonzalez’s lawyer told MarketWatch, however, that “Michael took full responsibility for his actions.”