A Centreville man who sold a classic car over e-Bay, received payment and never turned over the vehicle to the buyer was sentenced last week to 18 months in prison for embezzlement. He is Robert Michels, 50, of Stoney Branch Court in the Country Club Manor community.
Fairfax County police Det. James L. Reid detailed the case against him in a July 5 affidavit for a warrant to search his home for evidence.
"Mr. Michels advertised a 1956 Ford Thunderbird for sale on e-Bay," wrote the detective. "Stuart Goldberg [of] Montana won the bid. Goldberg wired Michels $28,500 on Sept. 12, 2003. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to pick up the vehicle, Goldberg contacted the Fairfax County Police Department."
In response, police arrested Michels on April 4, charging him with embezzlement. But the car's whereabouts were unknown, and the police considered the vehicle, its title and associated paperwork to be evidence in this case.
Eventually though, police received information leading to the vintage car's location. On June 17, Reid obtained and executed a search warrant at an Oakton address, impounding the Thunderbird as evidence.
Michels' girlfriend met Reid there and gave him the car's keys. The title and associated paperwork weren't with the vehicle — nor was the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate. But Reid learned the documents he sought were in a desk in the Centreville townhouse where Michels was a tenant.
He also found out that the ad Goldberg had answered was stored on a computer in that townhouse. Furthermore, Reid spoke with a previous owner of the car, Salvatore Tripoli.
"Mr. Tripoli sold the vehicle to an auction house in Indiana," wrote the detective. "Mr. Michels purchased the vehicle sometime after that." According to Reid, Michels contacted Tripoli in 2003, asking Tripoli to mail him the car's VIN plate, and he did. Apparently, wrote Reid, "The VIN plate had been taken off while the vehicle was being restored."
Reid executed the search warrant at the townhouse, July 6, seizing a computer, plus the title, purchase agreement, registration cards, insurance I.D. cards and DMV receipts for a 1956 Ford.
But this wasn't the first time Michels had gotten in trouble. On June 3, he was convicted of three counts of obtaining money by false pretenses on Jan. 13, 2003. (At the time, he lived in the Penderbrook community). And on Aug. 6 in Circuit Court, Judge David Stitt sentenced him to four years in prison total for these offenses.
Michels pleaded guilty to his new embezzlement charge on Aug. 17 and was sentenced last Friday, Oct. 8. Judge Arthur Vierreg gave him 18 months in prison, to run concurrently with his four-year sentence.