Utah trio victimized hundreds in elaborate odometer fraud scheme, police say
Aug 10, 2023, 1:50 PM
(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
MILLCREEK, Utah — Three men have been arrested in an extensive investigation after police say they were involved in an elaborate odometer fraud scheme — selling cars with tens of thousands or even 100,000 more miles on them than the buyer was told — and then using the money to buy sports cars for themselves.
As of Wednesday, Unified police have identified 10 victims. But detective Jeffrey Nelson says that based on what his investigation has uncovered, he believes there are many more victims of the scheme.
“We believe that there are hundreds of victims,” he said. “We’re thinking anywhere from 300 to 600 victims right now.”
Making the case even more eye-opening is the fact that the three men arrested are all under the age of 22.
Austin Kahle Weilacher, 21, Porter Rockwell Jacob Hamblin, 19, and Austin Timbrell Benson, 20, were each booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on Wednesday for investigation of 10 counts of theft by deception, 10 counts of forgery, and 10 counts of odometer fraud with intent to defraud.
Search warrants and arrest warrants were served Wednesday in Millcreek, South Salt Lake, and Draper. Several vehicles, cash, phones, computers, and numerous documents such as car titles and registrations were seized.
The operation, Nelson says, would work like this: The trio would find high-mileage cars for sale, buy them with cash, and then disable the digital odometer display.
“They’ll buy the cars for cash — $1,000 to $3,000, pretty cheap. And then they’ll turn around and sell them anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. They’re making a good chunk of change off of each one of those,” he said. “To really drive it home … they’re using fake Carfax reports either from other vehicles or alternating a Carfax and showing people a Carfax of the vehicle they’re buying, but it shows much less mileage.”
The buyer is told that the odometer is a simple $40 fix.
“And then when people go get the odometer fixed, they find that it has 100,000 more miles than what they were told,” Nelson said.
But by that point, the person who sold the car can’t be found.
“One guy buys the vehicle. One guy is their mechanic and disconnects the odometer. And one guy is the sales guy, goes to sell it to people. And they do that so it’s never the same person, people can’t identify them. They use fake names, fake phone numbers to avoid identification,” he said.
Investigators say the elaborate scheme can be traced back to at least 2021.
The investigation began June 14 when a woman reported that she and her son purchased a Subaru Outback from Weilacher and were told it had 107,000 miles on it, according to a search warrant affidavit. They later learned the car actually had more than 200,000 miles on it.
On June 25, another victim said he purchased a car from Weilacher that he said had 114,000 miles on it, a second affidavit states. The buyer later learned the vehicle actually had 215,000 miles.
Originally, investigators believed the trio focused solely on Subarus.
“Through the investigation and since we’ve served the warrants, we’ve now discovered they’ve been doing this on other vehicles including Chevys and Nissans, Fords, and a few other types of vehicles,” Nelson said.
One of the big breaks in the case came when Nelson found evidence from an apartment complex where one of the vehicles was sold.
“I got kind of lucky,” he said modestly. “I was able to find some security footage of the apartment complex that led me to one of the suspects. And from there I was able to identify the other suspects. And it was just kind of a trickle effect, taking one piece and the next piece until we had this case that just got so much bigger than I could have ever anticipated.
“It seemed like every day I came into work and opened (my laptop) I had a new case in my queue or a new victim that was calling me and saying, ‘Hey, I heard about this.’ And it just kept growing and growing and growing,” Nelson said.
As he got deeper into the investigation, Nelson said agents from the Department of Homeland Security Investigations were called to assist.
Police say the three men arrested are part of the racing community in Utah.
“They’re taking that cash that they’re making from those illegal sales and buying Corvettes and McLarens and all sorts of fancy stuff,” he said. “They paid $140,000 cash for the McClaren, $60,000 cash for the Corvette. They take that cash and go buy fancy cars to have fun with.”
Police say a Porsche, Lexus, and Ford F-150 were also purchased by the suspects.
“The subjects have purchased at least $250,000 worth of vehicles with their illegal proceeds,” a police booking affidavit states. Some of those vehicles were purchased in states such as Idaho and Texas.
Police also noted that the trio has “been involved in multiple incidents of fleeing from the police in the last three months, have traveled out of state numerous times over the last two months, and have applied for passports in the last month.”
The search warrants add: “The vehicles seen coming and going from Austin’s and Porter’s residences have fled from South Salt Lake, UHP and Sandy police within the last month.”
Nelson noted that all three men seem to be close friends. Weilacher and Hamblin lived together in the same South Salt Lake apartment. When they were arrested Wednesday, they even talked to officers about the pickleball tournament they all played in together the night before, he said.
But now, police say the men all face potential federal charges that could be filed next week.
In the meantime, Nelson is hoping that others who may have been scammed will contact Unified police, even if they have already made a police report in the past.
“We believe there may be a lot of victims out there who may have contacted the police at one time and didn’t get anywhere with it. And we want them to come forward and call us and let us know so we can add them to this case,” he said.
Anyone who believes they bought a car from the suspects with the digital odometer not working, only to find out after it was fixed that their vehicle had many more miles on it than what they were told, can call police at 801-840-4000 and reference case No. CO23-67574.