Well-Known Supercar Dealer CNC Motors Accused of ‘Stealing’ Cars in Massive Alleged Fraud
Dozens of owners have come forward to claim CNC sold their cars out from under them and kept the cash.
California exotic car dealer CNC Motors had it good in recent years, with a massive uptick in business and attention online in the automotive scene. Notable figures in the car scene like Doug DeMuro shot videos at the high-end store, attracting even more buzz that's helped it stand out amidst a sea of other supercar sellers. The business is known for carrying a wide variety of rare and unusual rides—basically anything with four wheels and a hefty price tag. And it also handles consignments, selling cars on behalf of their owners. Up until recently, it's been a successful shop with a good reputation.
But something alarming has been going on at CNC Motors since last fall. Dozens of people have come forward to claim the dealership sold their consigned cars without their knowledge and kept the money. The allegations against CNC's owner and operator Clayton Thom stretch back to October of 2020. Just last week, both the California Department of Motor Vehicles and local police in Upland, CA announced investigations into the case, and though authorities haven't revealed any further information from those yet, at least one lawsuit has already been filed against CNC Motors in federal court by an aggrieved buyer.
With the legal fallout still in its beginning stages, it remains a story of knowns and unknowns, and we'll make it clear when the latter comes up. But however things transpired over the last six months, multiple parties now say cars and titles are missing, money is missing, and a lot of people are very, very mad.
The Drive called and left messages at both the CNC Motors' main phone number and Thom's personal cell phone, the number of which was provided by a source. We've also sent a list of questions to email addresses and social media accounts controlled by the dealership. There's been no response so far. That's not to say the CNC has been a black box; in March, Thom recorded a video interview that was posted on YouTube last month where he acknowledged the growing fury, provided some non-specific, pandemic-related excuses and promised that everything would be sorted out in a matter of weeks.
"I don't have these problems because I spent somebody's money taking care of myself, or on myself, or on my family, or on a vice. This is because of business decisions that I've made because of a crisis in the world. All my fault," Thom said in the video. "I've made lots of wrong decisions. I've made a lot of right ones too, and when I make a wrong one, I always go back and fix it. I hope that I'm given the opportunity, and I hope that once all the wrongs are turned right, I'm hoping that people... are compassionate enough to take two minutes and not just grab their money or the title to their car and run, but to actually listen to me and say, what went wrong?"
That's not sitting well with CNC's alleged victims, some of whom say they still haven't been paid and have no idea what happened to their cars.
"We still don’t know where the car is at," one alleged victim told us. "We found out that Clay had sold the car sometime in October. He never would’ve told us about the sale of the car if we had not gone to go check on it."
The dealership formally moved into its massive new location in Upland back in the Spring of 2018, and things have only been growing since. McLarens, Rolls-Royces, Paganis and more all graced CNC's showroom, and it gave the business a booming reputation not only in California but online as well.
Four-million subscriber-strong YouTube personality Doug DeMuro filmed several videos there, taking advantage of the company's diverse and exotic inventory to find cars that weren't available anywhere else. Just the same, the company's reviews on platforms like Google and Yelp were spotless, with customers saying things like "First and foremost let me say this dealership is amazing. I have purchased over 75 cars in my life and nothing compares to the experience you will have at CNC." Another review said, "From the first time my wife and I stepped into their showroom to this very day we have always been treated with the highest level of respect and professionalism from sales, finance and service staff."
Everything seemed mostly perfect. What few issues arose—name one dealership without them, right?—were quickly responded to and handled by the staff. CNC was a reputable business, after all. That was evidently the case right up until the end of last year.
For his part, DeMuro put out a statement on Reddit a few weeks ago in which he said the last time he filmed at the dealership was in January 2020 and that he's had no recent contact or relationship with CNC. "At some point during COVID, my closest contacts stopped working there, so I didn't really have anyone to reach out to about coming up (in retrospect, this was probably red flag number one)—and it's five hours round trip for me, so I wasn't exactly pushing hard to start going up there again," he wrote. "They also started running out of cars for me to film, as they mainly had new-ish used exotics and I had done most of that stuff. Then I started hearing some of these rumors..."
Earlier this spring, YouTuber Dan Hurlbert, who runs a channel called Normal Guy Supercar, was contacted by a CNC customer, Shane Hammond. Hammond said he was feuding with CNC's owner Clayton Thom over unpaid consignment fees. He bought a car from CNC—a Ferrari F430—back in 2018, had several repairs and modifications done to it, and then decided to consign it with the dealership in early October of 2020. The way things allegedly unfolded after that sounds nightmarish.
First, a primer: Consigning your vehicle for sale means that in exchange for a flat fee or a percentage of the final sale price, a dealership will agree to handle the process of selling it from start to finish—marketing, maintenance, buyer financing and all the paperwork—while you retain legal ownership until the car is officially sold. Ideally, the result is more money in your pocket than you'd get from a standard dealership trade-in, with less hassle than trying to negotiate a private sale by yourself. Consignment makes even more sense for high-end cars because the pool of potential buyers is much smaller and more scattered, and an established dealership like CNC can theoretically find the one person who'll pay top dollar for your rare ride. Consignment agreements also typically have end dates, and if the car doesn't sell in that timespan, it's supposed to go back to you immediately unless other arrangements are made. After all, it's still your car.
When his Ferrari didn't sell last fall, Hammond decided to take the car back before Christmas, but was informed soon after making this decision that the vehicle had actually sold in early December. Hammond was surprised by the late, sudden sale—allegedly outside their consignment agreement—but knowing CNC's then-sterling reputation, he assumed the situation would be squared away no problem despite the car being essentially sold out from under him. A wire transfer was arranged, he was assured the money would arrive soon, but after several calls back and forth, the cash was still nowhere to be found, Hammond said.
A few days later, Hammond's wife informed him that she received a late-payment notice from the bank, which was odd considering the car had supposedly been sold and the loan paid off. A week later, she called the bank, who informed her that there has never been any manner of payoff on the loan. Whatever happened to the money CNC got from selling the Ferrari, it wasn't used to take care of Hammond's debt.
Following some squabbling between the bank's fraud department and CNC, the dealership finally cut a check to pay off the F430 in February, which bounced several days later, Hammond said. After this, other details of the situation became more clear. The vehicle had been sold to a new owner, however, it was sold without a title, which was still in Hammond's name. Worse yet, the new buyer took out a loan to pay for the vehicle with a sizable down payment. So now there were two people claiming ownership of the Ferrari, only one actually had the title, but both had loans out against it.
Hurlbert decided to post a video interview with Hammond, and the response was shocking. He was soon bombarded with stories from people who claimed they ended up in similar messes with CNC. Their cars were consigned with the dealership and sold without their knowledge, they hadn't been paid, and they were in a legal and financial quagmire trying to figure out what was going on as Thom deflected responsibility and kept promising the check was coming. Some 40 people in all reached out to Hulbert with their experiences. "The majority of the people that I've talked to consigned their cars in October, or November. Plus or minus a few months," Hurlbert told us.
This is the same situation that the growing number of alleged victims we've contacted find themselves in, and as these allegations get more serious, legal action is being taken.
Many of those involved in disputes with CNC have allegedly filed suit against the dealership. The Drive was able to get ahold of the complaint and an ensuing injunction from one such case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, which spell out the accusations in clear detail.
The case, which was filed on March 23 and is currently ongoing, alleges that the plaintiff, a Tampa-based car dealer named as The Alegra Collection, bought a Brabus-modified Mercedes G Wagen 4x4 Squared from CNC in early December 2020 and wired $220,000 to the California business to pay for it. The dealership then sent a car carrier from Florida to collect the vehicle, but when it arrived, it claims CNC didn't have the title on hand. According to the complaint, Thom insisted that the title would be provided, even promising it would be driven from California to Florida by a CNC employee to complete the deal if necessary.
Alegra decided not to take the truck back to Florida sans title, and the situation unraveled from there. Thom allegedly gave the Florida dealer the runaround and attempted to delay the situation for weeks. In mid-March, just before the suit was filed, Alegra says it discovered that the vehicle still had the previous owner's unpaid loan attached to it.
"Throughout January through March 2021, Alegra would frequently follow up with Defendants to advise on the status and Defendants would not promptly respond or provide various excuses," the complaint reads. "Defendants despite repeated demands refuse to provide title to the Vehicle; leaving Alegra having a Vehicle that is essentially a large and expensive storage container."
There's also a pretty tidy summary of what many are claiming: That CNC has allegedly been engaged in a massive, widespread "scheme" that's snared dozens of unsuspecting owners.
"Alegra has since discovered that Defendants are participating in a scheme whereby Defendants Thom, Firmapaz, and other employees of CNC obtain luxury vehicles to consign for various consignors," the complaint reads. "Defendants then find purchasers to purchase the vehicles (such as Alegra). The purchasers then purchase the vehicles from Defendants. However, the Defendants do not pay the consignor their money after the sale. Thereby leaving the bona-fide purchasers without the title to their vehicles, rending their newly purchased vehicles useless."
Even worse, Alegra's attorney filed an emergency injunction on April 7 claiming that CNC was actively trying to sell the same vehicle again, listing it on its website for $249,999—more than Alegra paid for it, the document notes. A screenshot of that listing, submitted to the court as evidence, has been posted above, and the full accusation from the injunction is pretty alarming:
"On April 06, 2021, Alegra became aware that CNC Motors attempted to sell this same rare Vehicle for $249,999. It is worth noting that the CNC Motors’website specifically designates when a vehicle is sold or pending, and the CNC Motors’ website does not designate Alegra’s Vehicle as either “sold” or “pending sale”. Ultimately, CNC Motors is attempting to sell, the rare Vehicle which Alegra: (i) has paid $225,000 for, (ii) is currently in possession of; and (iii) does not have title for. Setting up a situation where without immediate Court involvement and intervention, CNC Motors and their agents could attempt to deceive another innocent party, collect money on the Vehicle, and create a situation where multiple people are fighting over the same rare Vehicle (that may be difficult to obtain anywhere else), while CNC Motors [has] profited off of the sale multiple times."
According to the case, the plaintiff is suing CNC for the Mercedes' title and associated damages amounting to $2,500. In other words, the Tampa dealer isn't looking for some crazy legal settlement, it just wants the car it bought. As of publishing, the case still isn't resolved, though the vehicle's title has since been provided to the court.
The Firsthand Accusations
Some of the allegations that Hurlbert received have never been made public, but The Drive managed to get in contact with a few of those affected with help from the YouTuber. Most of those who spoke with us have been involved in the mess for months, with some having since found their vehicles after scouring the internet for CarFax history reports, VIN records, and other information. Most also wished to keep their stories private in the hopes that the situation may still be resolved without legal action, including one who originally agreed to be quoted for this story but has since backed out.
But one victim was willing to share what happened to her and her husband around the same time in the fall. She claims they consigned their 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS with CNC in July 2020. They went to check on it throughout the following months and everything was fine, but at a visit in December, the vehicle was missing, she said. She claims CNC owner Clayton Thom said to "come back next Friday and I’ll have the money." When they returned, he allegedly gave them the same response. The next time they visited he gave them a check but, they were told to wait a week until they deposited it. After contacting an attorney and waiting the specified length of time, the check was deposited. It bounced three days later.
The couple contacted the DMV and found the car was sold back in October 2020. It's unclear if Thom had any plans to tell them that their car had been sold had they not come to the dealership to check on it. They have no idea where the vehicle is and still haven't been paid.
Other alleged victims of CNC Motors have been more open about their experience, going as far as to be interviewed by Hurlbert on his YouTube channel like Hammond. One of them, who gave his name as John, consigned four exotic cars at CNC, giving the company the titles for a few of them back in 2018. In an interview with Hurlbert, he says the dealership not only sold his cars without his knowledge and didn't pay him—right around the same time as the others back in 2020—but that Clayton Thom also allegedly forged the signatures on some of his vehicles' titles in order to complete the sales. It gets worse than that, though.
The most valuable car John consigned at the dealership was his LaFerrari. After sitting for several months and failing to sell, John took it back to his own warehouse but did not get the title from Thom to go with it. In the meantime, Thom allegedly attempted to take out a loan against the La Ferrari's title in order to get some quick cash, but was denied by the bank when the vehicle was not present at the dealership, according to John. Thom was allegedly successful at taking out a loan against another one of John's cars, though: his 1953 Jaguar XK120. John also claims the vehicle was then repossessed by the lender, NextGear Capital, over nonpayment of that loan.
We've contacted NextGear Capital—which is owned by Cox Automotive—for comment but have yet to hear back.
Clayton Thom Speaks
By mid-March, it was abundantly clear to many that something was seriously wrong. Up to this point, though, only one side of the story had been heard. Working together, Hammond and Hurlbert decided to change that. So they brokered an interview between Hulbert and Clayton Thom himself, with Hammond traveling to Thom's location to ensure it would actually happen. The idea was to get something out of Thom—what exactly they were going to get, they had no idea, but throughout the course of this interview the dealership's side of the story became clearer, if only by a tiny bit. They ended up shooting a video that went on YouTube.
Posted on March 28, the interview begins with Thom explaining that there was a business slowdown due to the pandemic, stating that the dealership was closed for 110 days and three-quarters of his staff had to be laid off. He was, however, quick to state that "Covid didn't cause my problems," despite later statements putting much of the blame for his predicament on the effects of the pandemic.
"Somewhere along the lines, when the key people went away, I think it just got a little blurry for us, what order things needed to be done and how fast they needed to be done," Thom said. You can see the full thing below:
This statement was followed by a variety of very surface-level explanations of what was actually going on, none getting to the core of the issue. All of this basically amounted to Thom claiming that he and his company had made some mistakes—although he would not elaborate on what those mistakes were—and that he was trying to right all of the wrongs. He insists that, within the next few weeks, the whole situation could be resolved.
"We've made all of the wrong decisions, we've made all of the errors, it's such a clear path to go forward," he said.
Thom continues to say that the business may have slowed down significantly, but he has not consulted a bankruptcy attorney and that everybody is going to get what they're owed. Part of this, which he confirms, is that the building is being sold and rented back from the new buyer to raise capital. This is not completely unheard of, though, as even large organizations like McLaren were forced to do so during the pandemic.
Throughout the interview, Thom insisted that he was the victim, citing numerous people online and in real life that have attacked him over his business practices. "At the end of the day, if I get all my wrongs righted, these guys will still have this hate in their heart and will still continue to talk bad about me, to just try and cause [me and my family] harm," he said.
The interview ends amicably, with Thom thanking Hurlbert for his time. However, it's been nearly a month since that video was posted, in which time even more allegations have come to light. And after conducting this interview and posting more content relating to the situation on his channel, Hurlbert was served a cease a desist by Thom's attorney on April 19, which he forwarded to The Drive.
The Public Outcry
Listing those who have only been willing to go get behind a megaphone with their experience would limit the scope of the situation, though. More than 40 people have allegedly spoken to Hurlbert via email, but more have posted comments online anywhere the business can be reviewed. Yelp is flooded with negative feedback, and that company is currently monitoring CNC's page because of "unusual activity."
Many of the reviews are rather similar. People consigned cars, they were sold without the owner's knowledge, and they haven't been paid. One claims that his car was sold on January 19, but as of late March, he still hasn't gotten anything from CNC. Another claims that two months after posting his original review—which has since been deleted—Thom is still in possession of his car without his consent, saying that after speaking to the local DMV, "[the] DMV investigator confirmed I got my car stolen by 'false pretenses, and embezzlement.'"
Just the same, reviews—many with specific details and identifying information—are piling up on Google. In some instances, someone identified as the owner—presumably Thom—responds, although he typically says nothing to sort out the situations and it's unclear which, if any, have been resolved.
One Google review states that his 2011 Maserati Quattroporte was sold to a buyer in Maryland without his knowledge in January, and he still has yet to be paid for the vehicle as of two weeks ago. Another claims that, even after selling his Tesla Model X, CNC "never sent in the payoff on the bank loan," and that he made "multiple payments to the bank even after they sold the car." The story continues with buyers as well, one of whom bought a car without ever receiving a title.
One place where replies cannot be deleted or otherwise removed at the behest of the dealership is on automotive forums, and they are alight with allegations. Popular forums like VWVortex.com, Ferrarichat.com, Corvetteforum.com, Rennlist.com, Bimmerpost.com and others are flooded with replies from people who are aware of the situation from word of mouth, or were victims of the dealership themselves.
As of April 27, another victim has come forward to speak to Hurlbert on his channel as well. An enthusiast named Greg says he consigned four cars with CNC in September of 2020, including a Dodge Demon, a Dodge Viper, and a Dodge Ram SRT-10. After leaving the cars with Clay, it's a new twist on the same old story. Greg was allegedly told the everything had been sold to new owners and was given a check for the money by Thom on a Friday—critically, Thom allegedly asked him if he'd wait until Monday to cash it. Greg says he did, at which point his bank told him the check had been reported as fraudulent by CNC. This began weeks of back and forth with very little progress. According to Greg, he's is still owed $134,000 by CNC Motors.
A listing on the Better Business Bureau's website is also flooded with negative feedback, with complainants there repeating much of what has been heard everywhere else: their cars were sold without their consent, they haven't been paid, they don't know what's going on. The list of those affected has been growing ever since the situation became somewhat public knowledge back in the fall, and now, nearly six months later, it's coming to a head.
The Situation Now
A number of those involved have begun—or attempted to begin—taking legal action against CNC as the California DMV investigation unfolds. At least one upset owner reported going to the dealership, refusing to leave until the situation is resolved and then being removed from the property by local police. As it was happening, they claim the police allegedly told them that this isn't the first time officers have had to do this, and that they were just one of dozens of people that police have escorted out of the dealership recently. (Again, we reached out to the Upland Police Department for comment on this and haven't heard back.)
Local news station NBC 4 had more luck getting a statement, though. Speaking to the outlet, the Upland Police said "We are aware and have been involved with the [DMV] investigation of the CNC Motors case. As with any investigation, we cannot provide details while the case is still ongoing. We must protect the integrity of our investigations, even if it means accepting unwarranted criticism the false perception that we aren’t doing anything."
Meanwhile, Shane Hammond wrote on Reddit a few weeks ago that he was finally able to track down his car, claiming that he "also got the other [buyer's] car paid off, got him his equity, down payment and an additional large compensation check."
"There is more to this than I can post at this time due to the multitude of law enforcement agencies involved and open cases. I operated as a rouge citizen, never hired an attorney, but consulted many times," he wrote. "I also let the respective agencies know what I was up to and assured I’d keep sensitive information I discovered directed only to investigators and appropriate agencies. I am now working with others to get their cars before it’s too late. We are against the clock. If he ends up bailing out of the country or arrested, chances are the folks caught in this mess will be in court for years."
Know anything about the situation with CNC Motors? Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or securely at email@example.com.