A Vermont man accused of using five Tesla vehicles in a fraud scheme prosecutors say was worth well over a half million dollars was released from federal detention Tuesday on pre-trial conditions.
Michael A. Gonzalez, 32, of Colchester, is accused of ditching one Tesla on Lake Champlain in February, 2019. It was discovered to have been destroyed in a fire.
Gonzalez then allegedly tried to fraudulently collect insurance money on the ruined vehicle, but court documents say the payment from the insurer never came through.
“He’s entered a plea of not guilty,” defense attorney Chandler Matson said of his client.
Gonzalez is also accused of tricking Tesla dealers in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Florida into thinking they’d be paid for four other cars the suspect resold.
The government alleges Gonzalez never had the $607,000 to actually buy those five Teslas total, and that he used bogus bank accounts and other people’s names to get some of the cars.
Matson noted his client pleaded not guilty to possessing and selling stolen cars.
At a hearing Tuesday, Magistrate Judge Kevin Doyle approved supervised pre-trial release for Gonzalez.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Davis had wanted Gonzalez to stay behind bars for now, fearing the suspect could skip hearings or try to sway witnesses.
“The evidence against Mr. Gonzalez is powerful,” Davis argued.
Defense attorney Matson said he firmly believes his client will follow Magistrate Judge Doyle’s strict orders to participate in mental health treatment and drug counseling, and to not contact government witnesses.
“I’m always glad that I live somewhere where people get a fair shake — where due process means something,” Gonzalez’s attorney told NECN & NBC10 Boston. “And I look forward to representing him all the way through trial.”
Davis, an assistant U.S. attorney for the office of the U.S. Attorney for Vermont, hinted during Tuesday’s hearing an additional charge of arson could be coming, because of that burned-out Tesla.
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Al Levy, a Tesla investor and former employee, heard about the burned Model X in February 2019 and took photographs that he shared with NECN & NBC10 Boston for use in this story.
“It kind of looked eerie, because it was a white lake with snow and ice and just a black skeleton of a vehicle,” Levy recalled.
Gonzalez, who had been dressed in a green detention center-issued jumpsuit for the hearing, left court in normal casual attire following his release on conditions.
Matson had expressed concern that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a pre-trial release was safer for his client and would allow them to have more productive attorney-client meetings.