JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville tour bus operator accused of stealing several school buses in the region said Thursday he is the victim.
Alphonso Rock said he paid thousands of dollars for what he thought were used buses, and he and his drivers had no idea they were stolen.
"I've purchased buses and I feel like I'm the victim," Rock said at his home. "I purchased a whole bunch of buses from the same people who I thought were legit, and I didn't know they changed stuff around."
Rock, who owns 95 South Tours and Transportation on the Westside, said he has nothing to hide. A day after being charged with five counts of auto theft, he said he is not a thief.
"I've never went to any place and gone and stole their bus," he said. "I wouldn't do that or jeopardize my small business like that. This just looks terrible. It's bringing my company down. We wouldn't take a chance like that."
Rock said he has built his business from the ground up and takes pride in operating it. But according to police, Rock's drivers were shuttling passengers to and from the Florida-Georgia game, leading to an investigation that revealed there were several stolen buses on Rock's property, some, investigators say, with altered VIN numbers.
"These individuals were running a business with no overhead, they were stealing buses to take people to and from events, and these people are signing up thinking it's a legitimate company and they were riding in stolen vehicle," Jacksonville Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda said.
"I'm not stealing anybody's buses, and then to parade them around Jacksonville at the Florida-Georgia game of all places, that's ridiculous," Rock said. "They need to look into where the buses came from and who sold them to me."
Rock said he purchased the buses in question for $5,000 to $10,000 each within the last year from the same person. When asked whom that person was, Rock said he couldn't answer, but he has given police the man's name.
Those who know Rock and work next to him at a business complex on the Westside say he's been operating in that location for more than a year. They said he went as far as to take out loans to finance the buses.
Police said Rock was unable to provide them with documentation proving he purchased the stolen buses that investigators found in his business' parking lot.
"I'm a small business, and I'm just trying to survive and serve the community," Rock said. "We have an excellent reputation around Jacksonville with the Jaguars, with everybody, and we bought and made a mistake and didn't do our do diligence thoroughly checking out. We bought buses from people, and they turned out being bad buses."
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