By Mark Gutglueck
An Upland-based high-end vehicle dealer has defrauded more than three dozen individuals on both ends of the transactions his company has been involved in over the last 12 months, diverting an estimated $7.25 million in the process from the sellers and title owners of the cars in question to accounts unknown.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and the Upland Police Department have been inundated with complaints relating to how Clay Thom, the owner/operator of CNC Motors, transacts business. According to those who have dealt with Thom personally, he agrees to sell exotic vehicles, generally ones valued at in excess of $100,000, on consignment, rakes in the money from the sale and delivers the vehicle without the title to the purchaser. Thereafter, Thom pockets the money from the sale, allowing the seller to retain title to the vehicle in the form of possession of the car’s pink slip. When pressed, according to those who have dealt with him, he will make unkept promises to both the seller and the purchaser.
According to statements obtained by both NormalGuySupercar.com and the Sentinel, Thom uses his impressive showroom located just north of the 210 Freeway near the Campus Avenue exit in Upland, which at any given time features a fair number of highly impressive used and factory new vehicles, including late model Maseratis, Ferraris, Jaguars, Porsches, Lotuses, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Rolls Royces, McLarens, Mercedes Benzes, less expensive mid-range vehicles as well as restored vintage 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s cars to gain the confidence of owners of pricey vehicles looking to sell them. NormalGuySupercar.com is a website devoted to high-end vehicles. Making confident representations that he can sell the vehicles in relatively short order, Thom takes possession of the cars from the would-be sellers, committing to obtaining for the seller a price generally considered to be above the listed value of the cars, providing both himself and the seller a tidy profit.
In most cases, Thom then sells the vehicles, obtaining payment either in cash from the buyer or payment in full from the buyer’s lender. Thom invariably permits the purchaser to take immediate possession of the vehicle itself upon the cash sale or the signing of documents, offering assurance that the title documentation to the car will be soon forthcoming.
When the seller seeks payment, Thom uses a variety of assertions to defer passing the money received in the sale through to the title owner, including that payment will be made later that day, the next day, or within a few days. Upon coming to the dealership, either by invitation or unexpectedly, the seller will be told that the dealership does not at that juncture have sufficient funds in its accounts to make payment or that the company controller who has possession of the company’s checkbook is not there. On occasion, Thom will arrange for a check to be cut to the car seller, but payment on the check will be canceled or it will be returned for insufficient funds.
In some cases, Thom has sold the cars directly to a buyer. In other cases, he has unloaded the cars to a dealership. In virtually every case, Thom makes those sales without himself being in possession, even as an intermediary, of the title, such that the purchaser never receives title.
Multiple sellers have reported that they were not notified of the sales until they made an inquiry. In this way, the seller was not asked to hand off title nor provided with the opportunity to sign a release of liability. On at least three occasions known to the Sentinel, an owner, having logically bur erroneously assumed on the basis of a misrepresentation by Thom or another CNC salesperson the individual or entity in possession of the car had secured insurance for it, canceled his insurance coverage for the vehicle.
There is evidence to indicate that Thom has on some occasions taken cars on consignment and has then provided those cars to individuals or dealerships to whom he had previously owed money. Unverified by the Sentinel is a report that CNC is in arrears to Lotus well over $2.5 million, and as a result, those who have purchased brand new Lotus Evoara GTs have not been given title to the cars and therefore have not been able to register them.
Multiple narratives from Thom’s victims demonstrate he has, as a middleman, perfected the means of taking the money involved in the transactions he is involved in for himself and leaving ownership up in the air between the sellers and buyers, most often with the seller still in possession of the title and the buyer in possession of the car.
An element of Thom’s formula is keeping the seller in the dark as to who the purchaser is.
A significant number of the sellers financed the purchase of the vehicles in question and yet owe money on the cars. Thus, the sellers are often counting on the sale of the vehicles to pay off the debt relating to the original purchase of the vehicles. By getting involved with Thom and CNC, the would-be sellers end up in a position where they are still paying the liens on cars they don’t have. In such cases, the original owner has title to the vehicle and legal liability for it. The individual in possession of the car does not have title, which renders problematic the securing of registration and insurance for the vehicle in question. So, in addition to the owner yet making payments on a car he no longer possesses, he finds himself in the position of having to pay for insurance on the vehicle as well.
In one case, the owner of a car was stiffed by Thom after he dropped the car off with CNC as part of a consignment arrangement. The car then was transferred to a dealership to which Thom reportedly owed money as part of a trade to pay down on that debt. The owner of the car, unable to induce Thom to make good on the money owed from the consignment sale, without Thom’s cooperation, initiated a search for his car. He succeeded in locating the vehicle in the showroom of another dealer. After first feigning interest in purchasing the vehicle, the owner was able to obtain particulars with regard to what had occurred, at which time he produced his title to the car and informed the dealership that the car was his. The dealership’s owner, recognizing that the dealership could not claim legal ownership of the car, while acknowledging that the owner indeed appeared to have the right to take possession of the car, prevailed upon the owner to permit the dealership to make contact with Thom to get things squared up before that occurred. After several days, nothing was resolved and Thom was not forthcoming with any money. At that point, the owner returned to the dealership with his title document and members of the police department in the city where the dealership was located, and was able to recover his car.
Outcomes for most of those who have recently sought to have Thom and CNC Motors sell their vehicles have not been as satisfactory.
One factor is that the Upland Police Department has been reluctant to get involved in the matters involving CNC.
Thom’s mode of operation until recently consisted of impressing potential sellers with a showroom filled with well upwards of $30 million worth of impressive vehicles, and inducing the car owner into voluntarily turning the vehicle over to CNC by personally driving the vehicle into the CNC showroom and handing over the keys to Thom or one of CNC’s employees. This turns any dispute over CNC’s possession of a vehicle it does not have title to and any subsequent disposition of the car into a civil rather than a criminal matter. When those who have lost a vehicle or money to Thom’s tactics have approached the Upland Police Department, its officers have routinely referred them to the California Department of Motor Vehicles and its criminal/civil investigative arm.
In some instances, where Thom’s victims have proven a bit more determined and have insisted on remaining on the CNC premises to await the return of CNC personnel who were supposed to provide them with a check or cashiers check to make good on a past due payment or promised payment in full for a vehicle that had been sold, CNC employees have threatened to call, and on occasion have called, the Upland Police to effectuate the disaffected parties’ removal from the showroom or the premises.
Upland Police Sergeant Rob Steenerson, the department’s weekday day shift watch commander, told the Sentinel, “We get several calls a week about CNC. Most of those involve a consignment issue, so we’re not the agency best suited to deal with those sorts of things, since they are not strict law enforcement matters. So, we’ve handed that over to the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] investigators.”
Thom’s methodology of victimizing buyers is a mirror image of his victimization of sellers.
Purchasers, basically, are divided into three categories: Ones who purchased the cars, took physical possession of them but have never actually taken legal possession of them by gaining title; those who have purchased the cars, took possession of the cars but then lost them when the actual owner succeeded in retaking possession; and those who purchased the cars and never gained physical possession of the vehicles at all.
Those who have purchased the cars and were able to drive them out of the showroom did so with an assurance by Thom or one of his salespeople that they would soon be provided with title to the vehicle. That title is rarely forthcoming. This has created difficulty, as the buyers have been unable to register their ownership and in many cases must endure resistance in seeking to get the vehicles insured.
In at least a few cases, buyers paid for their vehicles, took possession of them and then were confronted weeks or months later by the individual who yet had title to the vehicle. After considerable back and forth in those cases, involving ultimately futile contact with Thom and CNC to ascertain what can be done to ensure that the owner is either paid in full by CNC or that the purchase price is refunded to the buyer, the vehicles are sometimes repossessed by the original owner, in which cases the buyer is out the cash he put up to make the purchase or is yet responsible for loan payments for a car he no longer has.
Moreover, a fair number of the cars CNC sold, while appearing to be in top notch condition, were not mechanically sound.
One buyer’s horror story of dealing with Thom, yet ongoing as of this writing, entailed making a $16,000 deposit on one vehicle before he even saw it, then making an even larger cash payment augmented by a loan to cover the entirety of the cost. Upon driving the car out of the showroom and before getting home, the buyer learned that the transmission was faulty. He took it to a reliable mechanic who informed him the transmission was shot, and that his only option was to replace it entirely.
When the buyer informed CNC, the salesman insisted that installation of a new transmission was not necessary, and had the buyer return the car to CNC for servicing. The buyer did so, entrusting the vehicle to CNC to carry out the required repairs. More than two months elapsed, at which time the buyer learned that no progress toward repairing the transmission had been made or yet undertaken. Thereafter, CNC’s staff ignored the buyer’s calls. Meanwhile, the buyer’s bank informed him that CNC had yet to release the title on the vehicle.
At that point, it became clear that CNC was in such an atrocious financial circumstance that it was taking in money on car sales and using that capital to service long due arrearages without making payment to the owners of the vehicles most recently sold – an indication of a classic Ponzi scheme.
When the buyer returned to CNC to get the car earlier this month, no work on the transmission had been carried out. At present, neither he nor the bank have title, and the bank has raised his interest rate on a loan for a car he cannot drive.
CNC has been in existence for 15 years, and was founded by Craig Thom and his sons Fraser and Clay. After functioning out of three other locations, the company, now controlled by Clay Thom, moved to 1018 East 20th Street in Upland in 2018.
On March 28, NormalGuySupercar.com spoke with Clay Thom in a videorecorded interview.
Asked what had happened, Thom said he was “not exactly sure. Was it a case of too big, too fast? We went from a smaller location where we were selling 30 cars a month [to] 35 cars a month. It was easier then. Everyone was happy. We didn’t need to work as hard. It was more about the cars and the people. When you come over here and now you’re expected to sell anywhere from 80 to 100 cars a month, it’s a lot more to do, it’s a lot more to manage, it’s a lot more drama. You need the right accounting people. You need the right people managing your credit lines. We went from having a six million dollar credit line to having a 30 million dollar credit line. When March  came around, we closed the store for 110 days, we laid off probably 30 of our 40 employees. I don’t know the answer. I’ve just been kind of rolling with it the whole time, but somewhere along the lines when the key people went away, I think it just got a little blurry for us on what order things needed to be done and how fast they needed to be done.”
At various times during the interview, Thom insisted that the COVID-19 pandemic had nothing to do with the major cash flow program CNC is experiencing, but at other times contradicted that, blaming what had occurred on the international, national, state and local health crisis brought on by the spread of the coronavirus.
“COVID isn’t my excuse,” Thom said relatively early in the interview. “COVID didn’t cause my problems. My problems were not being prepared for something like that and not being able to maneuver around an obstacle. At the end of the day, it’s trial and error. If I could go back to March  again and do it again, I wouldn’t be in this position, but I did the best I could during that time.”
At another point in the interview, Thom said, “If somebody told you, somebody came to you and said, ‘There’s a flu that’s going to come out and it’s going to shut the world down for a year,’ what would you have said? Come on, man. If anybody’s owned a business through this, they’ve seen the effects of it.”
Thom said CNC was initially thrown for a loop in the three-month March-to-May 2020 downturn in the economy that came with the advent of the COVID-19 crisis. Then, he said, “I think it was June, it started to pick back up and we were doing great sales again. We were still understaffed. We still didn’t have the right amount of people, but we continued to push through. We started experiencing a little bit of slowdown right around Thanksgiving.”
Things have been bad since then, he said, but vowed, “If we’ve made some wrongs, we’ll right them, and at the end of the day, everything in our world will go forward and we will make sure everybody on both ends of the stick, whether you’re owed a title or a car or money, all the rights will be wronged (sic) and there won’t be anybody standing there saying, ‘What happened?’”
Thom lamented that everyone is coming down on him now.
“As tough as it is to get though a hard time, it’s even harder to do it when you have the amount of people that don’t know us at all that are 100 percent out there for hate. They’re only here to see the crash. They’re not here to see anything other than a negative, and then they move right on to the next guy who’s in the limelight.
“We’re going to see this thing through,” Thom continued. “There’s nothing that we won’t do to get through this.”
Thom sought to deflect the most pointed criticism and concern about the way CNC is doing business, selling owners’ vehicles, taking in the money from the buyers and then not passing the money CNC has taken in through to the sellers, all the while avoiding those who are inquiring about where the money is, where their cars are and when the titles will be transferred. He admitted ignoring his disgruntled clients and customers.
“I try to refrain once in a while from looking at the comments that people send via text message to me,” Thom said. “I just try not to read them. I’m not one of those guys who likes to be in the limelight. The comments that people are making out there are just… not accurate. I was told not to engage with them, to not fight that fight. There’s people out there saying, ‘Oh, you have a half-million or a million dollar Rolex collection.’ I don’t own a watch. I literally don’t own a watch. I don’t have a vacation house. I don’t even actually own a house. I’m a renter now, which is okay with me and my family. We’re happy wherever we’re together. We don’t have a beach house. We don’t have a lake house. We don’t have a plane. I don’t have a drug problem. I don’t even drink, never mind do drugs. You have a guy out there who’s saying you should drug test me before this interview. I don’t have much money right now, but if you want to put that guy on a three-way interview right now and ask him how much he is willing to put up, I’ll take a drug test if he’s willing to put some money up against it. I don’t have these problems because I spent somebody’s money taking care of myself or on myself or my family or on a vice.”
Rather, he insisted, “This is because of business decisions that I’ve made because of the crisis in the world. I’ve got some things coming down the pipe that’s going to change everything for me.”
Thom said he empathized with those whose cars he has sold and who have yet to be paid or those to whom CNC had sold those cars without their getting legal title to them.
“These are actual human beings that work hard for their money,” he said. “We’ve got to make our wrongs right. Was I late? Yeah. I was. I’m sorry about that. If I need to compensate you for that, I will. I’ve made lots of wrong decisions. I’ve made a lot of right ones, too. And when I make a wrong one, I always go back and fix it. I hope that I’m given the opportunity, and I hope that once all the wrongs are turned right, I’m hoping that people are compassionate to take two minutes and not just grab their money or their car or title and run, but to actually listen to me and just say. ‘What went wrong? We’ve done business here for ten years. What happened?’”
Thom lamented, “I’m fighting the people that don’t want to see me make it.”
In addition to the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, Thom attributed what was happening to CNC to bad publicity on the internet and people, “automatically… judging the situation without the facts.” He did not explain, however, why he was withholding the money achieved from the sale of the cars from those who owned them and had commissioned him to sell them.
He reiterated during the interview what many of his clients and customers have said was one of his standard prevarications, which is that things are looking up, and the money everyone is owed will be forthcoming in a very short while if everyone remains patient.
“We have large amounts of money that are coming to us that is our money,” he said. “We paid out, I think, a little over $800,000 on Friday [March 26, 2021],” he said.
An investigator with the California Department of Motor Vehicles told the Sentinel that his agency has opened a dual criminal and civil investigation into more than 40 complaints against CNC.
Thom and CNC Motors are defendants in at least two breach of contract lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court and a contract violation suit brought in federal court in Tampa, Florida.
A tally by NormalGuySupercar.com and the Sentinel of the value of the vehicles sold on consignment by CNC for which the sellers have not yet been paid exceeds $7 million.
Despite Thom’s claim that he is now a renter, documents at the county recorder’s office indicate he or his wife and the Thom Family Trust own, live at or otherwise have control of two homes in San Antonio Heights in the 2500 block of Euclid Crescent West, one valued at approximately $1.5 million and the other at roughly $1.4 million.
There is concern that Thom is on the verge of flying the coop.
Early last year, the CNC showroom and outside lot was filled with exceedingly expensive vehicles with a total value estimated at between $40 million and $50 million. Most of those have been sold and replaced with what is now a lesser number of vehicles contained entirely within the showroom, which, while impressive by average standards, are valued at, in total less than one quarter of what the vehicles present in the showroom and lot 15 months ago were worth. Neither Thom nor CNC holds title to most of those vehicles. Clay Thom is the managing member of Craig Properties, LLC., which owns the CNC Motors property and building.
Frazier Thom, Clay Tom’s brother, was previously heavily involved in CNC Motors, but has recently distanced himself his brother and the company. Frazer Thom owns the house at 2588 Euclid Crest in San Antonio Heights just north of the Upland City Limits, a five-bedroom, four-bathroom 5,100-square foot home on a 0.38-acre lot. The house at 2580 Euclid Crest, a six bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom, 5,025-square foot home on a 0.42-acre lot, is owned by the Thom Family Trust. Documentation shows Clay Thom’s wife, Amy, as living at the 2588 Euclid Crest address. Craig Thom, who was Clay and Frazer’s father, died 12 years ago.
Previously, both houses on Euclid Crescent West were up for sale. As of this week, the five-bedroom home had been listed at $1,524,651 on Realtor.com for 336 days, with an indication that its sale was pending. That listing was removed from Zillow, an online real estate marketplace, on January 15, 2021, but no title transfer has yet been recorded relating to it at the San Bernardino County Hall of Records. As of this week, the six-bedroom home has been listed at $1,398,888 on Realtor.com for 341 days, with an indication that a sale is pending. A Zillow link shows the sale has been pending since January 27, 2021, but no transfer relating to the home and property has been recorded at the San Bernardino County Hall of Records.
NormalGuySupercar.com’s interview with Clay Thom can be viewed at EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CNC MOTORS – Nothing was off limits – YouTube.
By Mark Gutglueck