A White County car dealer who took off from state investigators Thursday later told them he was running from a Channel 2 reporter who broke the story that launched a new criminal investigation.
Mitch Simpson could face felony charges in botched sales agreements that have left nearly 60 customers without tags or titles, months after their purchases, revenue investigators say. The state taxes on those purchases have not been paid.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr spoke with three of those customers Wednesday, after Justin Mathis contacted the station regarding his problem.
"We’ve got over $30,000 in this truck now, and we don’t even know if it’s ours,” the Blairsville man said.
Less than a day later, Carr learned the White County Sheriff’s Office, State Attorney General and the Georgia Department of Revenue are probing Simpson’s business dealings.
After Carr’s report, the state learned of 57 similar cases.
We’re lookin’ at, at this point, over 50 felonies potentially for this car dealer,” said Josh Waites, director of special investigations for the Georgia Department of Revenue. "Every time you collect TAVT (tax) and you don’t submit it and you keep it for yourself, it’s a felony.”
On Thursday afternoon, an undercover state revenue agent pulled temp tag and VINs from the few cars left on Simpson’s old, empty lot off highway 129 in Cleveland. The dealership, Mitch Simpson Motors, closed about a month ago.
Then investigators headed to a nearby office complex, where Simpson’s ex-mother-in-law and office staff have been working with customers since the dealership shut down.
Carr learned the red dealer tags being issued to customers whose temp tags are close to expiration are also illegal. They’ve been coming from the office, as the staff attempts to work with car buyers.
The group declined to speak with Channel 2, locking their doors after state investigators left the office Thursday afternoon.
A short time later, those investigators headed to Simpson’s Habersham County home. When he pulled into his driveway, he sped off in a truck with investigators chasing after him.
The investigators looped back around to Simpson’s home, where his wife came to the door.
“Tell Mitch the next time we see him, he’d better not run,” Waites told her through the doorway.
Waites then reached Simpson on his cellphone to identify himself.
“Well we’re sittin’ in your driveway,” Waites told Simpson on the phone. “Come on back.”
“He didn’t run from us Brian,” Waites said to another investigator when he hung up the phone. “He ran from Nicole Carr.”
“He ran from what?" The investigator asked.
"Nicole Carr,” Waites answered. “ He said, 'I saw that news lady.'”
Simpson returned to his home about 10 minutes later, with a family member who dropped him off. He went into the house to speak with investigators.
Waites said his department will now work with the White County Sheriff’s office, tax commissioners and Simpson’s financial partners to determine the total loss for the criminal investigation. They still want to hear from any other victims in this case. They should contact investigator Brian Crisp at Brian.Crisp@dor.ga.gov.