I-TEAM: 7 arrested in luxury rental car theft ring

$1.3M worth of vehicles stolen; 10 others wanted in car theft, bank fraud scheme

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Seven people, including the ringleader, were arrested and 10 other suspects are sought in a two-state car theft and bank fraud scheme that targeted luxury rental vehicles, authorities said.

The News4Jax I-TEAM uncovered U.S. Secret Service records detailing the scheme to steal more than $1 million worth of expensive vehicles from rental car companies.

According to detectives, the North Florida Finance Crimes Task Force got onto the leader of the operation, identified as George Christopher Jackson, in June.

Jackson, 35, was arrested Aug. 9 on 12 counts of bank fraud, one count of schemes to defraud and one count of grand theft.

According to his arrest report, since April, Jackson had been operating the car theft ring that started in Jacksonville but spanned multiple cities in Florida and Georgia. 

Some of the high-dollar vehicles reportedly involved in the heist included a brand-new Maserati, a Jaguar, a Porsche Cayenne, a Mercedes, a Land Rover Range Rover Sport, a Cadillac and an Infiniti QX80.

The cars reported stolen had a value of about $1.35 million, investigators said.

"I think that is ridiculous," traveler Avis Smith told the I-TEAM on Friday. "How do you steal $1.35 million worth of cars? How is it possible?"

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, which is part of the task force, said Jackson recruited people to open bank accounts at VyStar Credit Union locations and take out a line of credit for Savings Secured Visa cards.

Investigators said they used their new credit union cards to rent the most expensive vehicles from kiosks in Florida, including at Jacksonville International Airport. Detectives said they also picked up luxury rental cars from airports in Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach. Then, in exchange for a few hundred dollars, they dropped off the luxury vehicles in Atlanta, Georgia, according to detectives. 


According to investigators, Jackson claimed they were for celebrities and music videos, but the rentals were never returned. 

"I don't see how because they get all your identification," traveler Pagan Platte said. "They know who you are when you rent it."

Investigators said they arrested Jackson, who was already on probation, and six accomplices:

Antoinette Phillips,
Leroy Washington,
Timothy Southard,
Kevin Thompson,
Brian Helm
and Kenneth Stewart.

Investigators said they're looking for 10 more people, along with most of the cars, which are still missing.

"That's a lot of money," Smith said. "I wonder who incurs the expense? Who picks it up? Consumers? Renters?"

VyStar Credit Union said it was instrumental in assisting law enforcement in the investigation and none of its members will incur a loss related to the scam.

The I-TEAM spoke with employees at some of the car rental companies, and one of them said it was a problem for them across the country. 

Some rental car companies install GPS systems in their rentals, while others do not. 

According to Duval County jail records, Jackson was arrested twice in 2015 on charges that included bank fraud and organized fraud.

As of Friday, online jail records show, Jackson was being held in the Duval County jail without bond.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.