Clayton Thom, owner of the bankrupt luxury car dealership CNC Motors in Upland, has been hit with 37 counts of grand theft and one count of elder theft. Prosecutors argue he embezzled over $4 million from 35 clients by agreeing to put their cars on consignment but instead pocketing the money when the car was sold.
Thom’s business manager, Valera Tanaka, was charged with 13 counts of tax fraud.
Both defendants pleaded not guilty Oct. 31.
Thom has been accused of running a scam since at least 2021. The luxury-car YouTuber Daniel Hurlbert ran a 22-video series on CNC Motors on his YouTube channel Normal Guy Supercar starting March 25, 2021, interviewing people who claimed they had not been paid after their cars were sold, and interviewing Thom in a video published March 28, 2021.
Thom said in the interview that he failed to be prepared when he lost employees and traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Somewhere along the lines, when the key people went away, I think it just became a little blurry for us as to in what order things need to be done, and how fast they needed to be done,” Thom told Hurlbert.
“We’re in the position now that, hopefully by the end of next week, not only will we have a good announcement to put out there, but we’ll also be able to wrap up, I’m a pretty optimistic person, a very large amount of that, if not all of it. Going forward will be easy. We’ve made all the wrong decisions. We’ve made all the errors. It’s such a clear path to go forward,” Thom continued.
One interviewee, John, said CNC Motors owed him $800,000 when he consigned four cars with CNC Motors, some of which were sold. John claimed that Thom forged his signature on title when he sold one car to a new owner, and that one of the cars was seized by a bank after Thom used it as collateral for a loan.
“I called him multiple times, and he always changed his story back and forth. He kept saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to pay you,’ Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, kept me waiting. Nothing really happened,” John said.
Each of CNC Motors’ 11 reviews with the Better Business Bureau reported that clients had not been paid for their cars after they were sold.
Thom had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Feb. 1, 2022. His bankruptcy filing said he owed between $10 million and $50 million to between 100 and 200 debtors.
Thom had also been the defendant in 34 civil cases in San Bernardino Superior Court, the first being brought May 29, 2019. Eight cases were stayed because of the bankruptcy proceedings.
Two cases had judgments entered against Thom to a combined sum of $310,000. Eleven cases were dismissed, two were closed, and the remaining 12 are ongoing.
CNC Motors operated at 2115 Aviation Drive in Upland.
Thom is held on $8.7 million bail.
Case Nos. FWV23003707 and FWV23003708
Read the complaint here.