[PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons.org]
[Original Publish Date: 10/22/19]
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CLERMONT, Florida – A Clermont man is facing scheme to defraud and grand theft charges after a nearly year-long investigation by Clermont Police revealed he stole more than half a million dollars from his place of employment, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Michael Deardoff, owner of Ford of Clermont, and another individual went to Clermont Police Department in October 2018 to report he suspected his body shop manager, Thomas Joseph Pritchard, 60, was misappropriating funds and claimed he had documentation to prove it. He also told police several employees had knowledge of Pritchard’s fraudulent practices, the affidavit states.
Lake Legal News called Deardoff for comment, but he had not returned the call at press time.
One employee told a Clermont Police detective she was asked to go to the onsite body shop to assist Pritchard in getting things in order. The employee said she immediately knew something was not right, according to the affidavit. The employee reported “that when she walked onto the lot she discovered several vehicles that had never been to the dealership. [She] discovered some vehicles that had been in their service department yet never showed to have a body shop repair at their facility. The total of vehicles located was 19”, according to her police statement. She reportedly asked Pritchard what was up and according to her statement to police, Pritchard immediately became defensive and stated those vehicles were his and she needed to stay out of his business.
The employee also told police she found several older vehicles, some that had been there for more than a year. She questioned Pritchard about those and again, he told her to stay out of his business. The employee reported her findings to Deardoff and he also questioned Pritchard, who provided him with owner names. However those vehicles did not have repair estimates, and an estimate is always provided, according to the affidavit.
The same employee was closing out repair orders and found Pritchard had “flagged” a technician for work one to two months prior. The employee questioned Pritchard about it and he began yelling at her and telling her it was none of her business, the affidavit states. She continued going through repair orders and found repairs were allegedly being charged out on tickets that did not belong to the vehicle, or technicians were being paid before a job was complete, in addition to the wrong technicians being flagged on vehicles that were finished. A meeting was called to include several employees including Pritchard and the employee who found the discrepancies. After the meeting, Pritchard called the employee into his office and told her to close the door. Pritchard began yelling at her and throwing his fists in the air, the affidavit states. Pritchard yelled, “[Expletive] this, I’m over this [expletive]!” The employee tried to calm him and he reportedly yelled, “I’m going to kill myself because I know I’m going to jail!” The employee asked why and Pritchard stated he “[expletive] up big time.”
The employee advised since her first day at the body shop customer would come to the shop and ask for Pritchard by name and if they couldn’t speak with him, they would just leave without leaving their name or a message and say they would just call him directly. Another customer came in to pay her bill and was very upset at the amount, $437.03. Pritchard came out and spoke with her and reduced her bill to $93.36. The employee told police Pritchard removed parts from the customer’s invoice to lower the bill, according to the affidavit.
Police spoke with another employee, a technician, who told him Pritchard had come to him on numerous occasions and instructed him to work on vehicles without repair orders. He also said Pritchard had called him in on several Sundays to work, the affidavit states. Yet, another employee in the parts department told police he questioned Pritchard about the parts he was ordering and Pritchard told him, leave it alone and it would all wash out in the end. The Clermont Police detective requested an investigative subpoena for bank records.
In February 2019, the detective conducted an interview with a fourth employee, an auto body mechanic. The mechanic told police Pritchard would give him side work after hours and on weekends and he would be paid either in cash, or Pritchard would add hours to work orders. The employee told police he had seen Pritchard accept cash from customers, as well.
The detective received documentation from one bank and found Pritchard had an additional account with another bank. This account was a business account for 1st Sterling Glass Repair/Superglass Windshield Repair. The detective found multiple checks in large amounts being written as payroll from the business account to Pritchard. The detective compared the account to documentation provided by Ford of Clermont and was unable to trace exact dollar amounts due to the fact Pritchard had allegedly accepted cash from customers. However, the detective was able to find parts and labor were misappropriated to repair orders that did not require the parts or labor associated with the repair.
The detective determined $565,328.13 was stolen.
Pritchard was arrested Sunday. He bonded out of the Lake County Jail the same day he was arrested on $35,000 bond.
Our Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn M. Aciego, began writing for Lake Legal News in 2010. In addition, she has made more than two dozen appearances on live national television, including Nancy Grace and the Greta Van Susteren show, along with her appearance on Evil Twins. Contact her with breaking news, tips, and feedback by sending an e-mail to 352Tips@gmail.com. You can also contact us on our Facebook page — and make sure you “Like” and “Follow us” there. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]