Texas Car Dealer Mogul Sure Likes Setting Things on Fire: Police

The 75-year-old founder of a major dealership group is accused of setting fires at properties he wanted to buy and develop.

byJosé Rodríguez Jr|
Texas Car Dealer Mogul Sure Likes Setting Things on Fire: Police


The founder of a major dealership group in Texas has been arrested for a second time within the short span of two months for allegedly starting a series of fires. Investigators with the Austin Fire Department and Austin Police believe that Dorsey Bryan Hardeman, the 75-year-old founder of Continental Automotive Group, started multiple fires targeting homes and businesses going back to December 25, 2023, in order to clear out locations that "were hindering the sale or development" of properties that Hardeman was interested in. Yeah, this is not how you expand your car dealership network.

Hardeman was arrested on arson charges on April 24 in connection with multiple fires set on Christmas Day last year, as well as fires he allegedly started on February 17 and 20. He's now being charged with two counts of first-degree arson and one count of second-degree arson, as the Austin Business Journal reports. Hardeman had previously been arrested on February 29 on charges of felony arson and a state jail felony offense of burglary for a fire set on February 25.

The founder and owner of the large dealer group had posted bail for the first arrest, only to be arrested again after AFD investigators found surveillance video of Hardeman breaking into a location in downtown Austin, which was once the site of a local bicycle shop. The owner of Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, Bart Knaggs, told arson investigators that Hardeman was the owner of a property next door and had previously asked about buying the property where the LBS stood.

FOX7 via YouTube

The AFD responded to the fire downtown in the afternoon, and local news outlet FOX7 cites investigators who say that Hardeman forced his way into the building while holding a can of gasoline. Investigators found metal shavings on the floor, which they said came from the lock Hardeman apparently drilled out to gain access to the building. Once inside, Hardeman "poured the gasoline, lit matches, and watched it burn," per FOX7. About ten minutes later, the man walked back to his Mercedes-Benz GLS 580 and drove away before firefighters arrived on the scene. The building's sprinkler system thwarted the arson attempt, however, and firefighters were able to contain what was left of the fire.

The February 25 date suggests Hardeman went on a serial arson spree that began two months prior on Christmas Day and ended four fires later. AFD Investigators said the December fire was connected to a business deal, as it was intentionally set at a property Hardeman was trying to buy. Investigators also say the other fires Hardeman allegedly set in early February were an attempt to clear the area of two mobile homes, which were the only things standing in the way of a real estate deal Hardeman was pursuing.

The prominent Austin businessman is being held at the Travis County Jail and awaiting trial. Hardeman founded Continental Automotive Group in 1966, according to a profile in the Austin Business Journal. He retired in 2017 but still manages a "portion of the group's real estate portfolio," according to Automotive News. Upon retirement, he mostly transferred ownership of the dealer group to his children, who oversee its operations at eight dealerships spread out across the Lone Star State—from Dallas, to Austin, and San Juan in South Texas. Their dealerships sell cars from luxury brands such as Infiniti, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, as well as downmarket cars from Honda, Subaru, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram.

Continental Automotive Group