A White County judge denies bond for Mitch Simpson. The former Cleveland car dealer closed his auto lot earlier this year; he was arrested in March on theft charges.
From WSB TV…
A north Georgia car dealer was denied bond Thursday in what’s now being described as a more than $2 million fraud and theft case, prompted by a Channel 2 investigation.
Mitch Simpson was arrested and charged with three counts of felony theft by conversion late last month. They were tied to unpaid state vehicle taxes in which nearly 60 buyers say they paid Mitch Simpson Motors for their purchases, but their TAVT taxes were left unpaid and their titles were never delivered.
Those purchases spanned a time period between late 2018 and early 2019, right before the Cleveland dealership shut its doors, and the buyers came to Channel 2 after unsuccessful attempts to contact Simpson.
Soon the Georgia Department of Revenue began working with the White County Sheriff’s Office and state Attorney General’s Office to investigate the case.
On Thursday, the Georgia DOR filed two additional theft charges in the case and argued against bond in Simpson’s case. A prosecutor revealed a much larger, complex case while highlighting Simpson’s 2011 federal conviction in a car loan scam. He served probation in the case, while several other co-defendants went to federal prison.
In addition to $385,000 in unpaid vehicle taxes that were collected, prosecutors say Simpson failed to pay multiple floor planning companies $780,000 for vehicles they financed. Those companies essentially act as a bank for car dealerships, lending them the money to provide inventory on car lots.
In a third tier of the ongoing investigation, prosecutors allege Simpson double and sometimes triple-financed the same vehicle through the lenders, pocketing about $1.3 million.
Simpson’s attorney hit back at those allegations after a state investigator told the court Simpson’s personal bank records had been subpoenaed but not yet analyzed. Search warrants netted titles and documents from Simpson’s Habersham County home, as investigators say evidence was taken out of the car dealership building.
“He has a compelling story, and there are certainly issues with the state’s case,” defense attorney Jeff Wolff told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr.
Wolff highlighted in court that Simpson simply managed the namesake lot and that it was owned by his former in-laws.
No one else has been charged in the case, and employees of McGregor Financial, the dealership’s in-house financing company, have cooperated with investigators. They’ve maintained their role was financing and Simpson had access to accounts and paid the bills, according to investigators’ testimony.
“It was an underfunded business,” Wolff said. “And that’s a large gap between an underfunded business and criminal enterprise.”
About a half-dozen friends and family members served as character witnesses for Simpson, arguing against a notion that he’d serve as a flight risk in this case.
Perhaps his strongest supporter was his 86-year-old mother, Elsie Hogan, who said Simpson never had a desire to leave his north Georgia roots, even when he faced trouble in his earlier federal case.
“He says he’ll never fly until he gets his wings and goes to heaven,” Hogan said.
Hogan also revealed she’d used yard sale money to pay for Simpson’s heart medication while he was in jail. She pushed back against any suggestion that he’d profited from stolen car lot funds.
“He has no money at all. He has nothing. He has nothing, sir,” Hogan said, answering Wolff’s questions.
Nonetheless, Superior Court Judge Joy Parks ruled against bond in the case, citing the complexity and seriousness of the newly-revealed allegations. A grand jury is set to convene in June.
The good news for Simpson’s car buyers is that they are receiving their titles. Fifty-three of the car buyers affected are from Georgia, and the state says it worked with those floor planning companies to get the missing titles.
“We've been able to obtain 52 (titles) with the help of the Attorney General's Office. It's been a great win for us,” said Josh Waites, director of special investigations for the Georgia Department of Revenue.
The department says it continues to receive complaints tied to purchases from Simpson.
Outside of court, car buyers Paul Cleiman and Justin Mathis thanked Channel 2 for exposing the case. Both men have either received titles or expect them any day after four months of uncertainty.
“It’s been a long battle,” said Mathis. “We appreciate you, Nicole. We wouldn’t be here today without you.”
"I don’t think it was getting any attention until you stepped in and got the Department of Revenue involved,” Cleiman said. “We need justice, and I think that’s been served today for now.”