Mechanic who promised cars to people in recovery took cash, didn’t deliver, police say

Man claimed to operate a nonprofit; police investigate after multiple allegations surface that he took thousands in down payments for cars that were never delivered.
Rebekah Wilson said she was scammed out of $4,000 she paid for a down payment for a car from a program that claimed to be a nonprofit that helps adults in recovery obtain reliable vehicles. She never received the promised vehicle and still relies on her old red truck seen here in a parking lot outside an Athens shopping mall. (Olivia Bowdoin for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Rebekah Wilson said she was scammed out of $4,000 she paid for a down payment for a car from a program that claimed to be a nonprofit that helps adults in recovery obtain reliable vehicles. She never received the promised vehicle and still relies on her old red truck seen here in a parking lot outside an Athens shopping mall. (Olivia Bowdoin for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Last November, Rebekah Wilson and her husband began stitching together the pieces for a new life. The Athens couple were both recently out of rehab and looking for a fresh start. A car, something to replace their 24-year-old Dodge Dakota, was one of the first tasks on the list.

A new rehab friend had luck with an organization called Wheels-N-Recovery. The friend told Wilson it was a nonprofit that helped people who’d been through drug and alcohol rehab to find affordable cars.

“I was so excited and felt so blessed to have come across a program that helped people who were trying to rebuild their lives,” said Wilson.

Wilson, 43, doesn’t feel that way anymore.

After working extra hours and saving money for months, she said she sent a $4,000 down payment via Cash App in June to Aaron E. Hayes, a mechanic in Suwanee, who operated Wheels-N-Recovery. She said he told her he would find her a reliable car for around $10,000 — the down payment and then $200 every week for 26 weeks.

Months later, Wilson still had no car from Hayes. And when Wilson reported it all to police last month she discovered she was not alone.

According to Captain Robert Thompson with the City of Suwanee Police Department, Wilson’s case is one of seven involving Hayes that the department is investigating. On November 8, Gwinnett Magistrate Court issued six felony warrants for Hayes’ arrest based on six of the complaints, including Wilson’s. Suwanee Police have been unable to locate Hayes, Thompson said.

The allegations outlined against Hayes, 53, in warrants and police reports reveal a pattern.

Both men and women sent money, sometimes thousands of dollars, to Hayes and his Wheels-N-Recovery organization to purchase vehicles that were never delivered, according to allegations in police records and arrest warrants. Sometimes, when clients pressed Hayes for answers, he would refund some, but not all, of the money, or offer other assurances, records show.

A Chamblee woman last month told police that she sent Hayes thousands of dollars for a 2006 BMW nearly a year ago and still no car had arrived. Just this month, a man who lived near Athens told police he was referred to Hayes by a local recovery program and never received a vehicle after he sent him $1,800 for a down payment. And a woman from Norcross told police last month she brought her Toyota Camry to Hayes in August to get it repaired, paid him more than $2,400 and he never returned the vehicle.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution attempted to reach Hayes but the phone number associated with him was out of service, and he did not respond to emails. A visit to the location of his mechanic shop in Suwanee revealed it had closed.

Justin Mizell, another person who filed a complaint with police, said he loaned $15,000 to Hayes this year for his Wheels-N-Recovery program.

Mizell said he saw a Facebook post by Hayes explaining an investment opportunity to make money and help those in recovery get a car. Sober for six years, Mizell said he was skeptical about Hayes’ promise to deliver a 100 percent return on investment, but figured he would at least get his money back, while also helping those in recovery.

He said Hayes began giving him the run around this fall.

Mizell said he went to police when he started seeing people in the local recovery community post online alleging they had been nmed by Hayes.

“I had no clue that there were this many people that had been affected by him,” said Mizell.

Hannah Hitchcock said she met Hayes while he was operating a now-closed auto repair shop in Suwanee. She said she had been the service manager, and Hayes began having her do work on the side for Wheels-N-Recovery.

She said at first it seemed like an organization with a mission to help people. Hancock said over time she began to see red flags and became concerned with the way Hayes was doing business. Hayes was accepting thousands of dollars in down payments from people, she said, even as existing clients still hadn’t received the vehicles he had promised.

Her concerns led her to leave the organization earlier this year, she said. Her LinkedIn page said she spent nearly three years working as the director of client services.

”I had told him that I didn’t feel it was ethical to continue accepting new clients when there were other clients still waiting to receive their vehicles,” she said.

Wheel-N-Recovery had been operating out of a mechanic’s bay off Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Hayes’ landlord, Jhonny Galeano, told the AJC that Hayes had stopped paying rent and left about two months ago, after a string of bad checks and excuses.

Hayes owed him $9,000 in unpaid rent, according to Galeano, who said he finally just changed the locks to get Hayes out.

“I don’t think I’ll ever recover the money. It was lie after lie after lie,” Galeano said.

While Wheels-n-Recovery presented itself as a nonprofit, the AJC was unable to find required tax 990 forms associated with the name.

In Georgia, nonprofits are supposed to register with Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger’s office. According to Raffensberger’s spokesperson, Wheels-N-Recovery never registered with the state and no complaints were made to Raffensberger’s office.

Without complaints or registration, it is difficult for authorities to even know there is bad behavior to monitor.

“We open investigations as they are received,” said Raffensberger’s spokesperson. “We encourage those who suspect a charity is operating illegally to notify the local authorities and our office”

It’s unclear exactly when Wheels-N-Recovery started. It has no website, but its earliest posting on its Instagram page is from February 2020. The group describes itself as a “NonProfit Organization” and encourages interested parties to go to their Facebook page for testimonials. The Facebook page went down after Wilson filed her police report.

For Wilson, it is the breach of trust in the recovery community that is saddest for her. She said after she filed her police report, Hayes texted her to say he would work on refunding her money. Realizing that was not going to happen, she started a GoFundMe to try to recover the $4,200 she paid Hayes.

“We are in desperate need of funding for a vehicle that I can take my husband to and from medical appointments, and that I can get to and from work in,” she wrote on the GoFundMe. “Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers, and any help would be greatly appreciated.”

Suwanee Police Department is asking people with information on Hayes’ whereabouts or anyone who may have been a victim of fraud by Hayes to contact Detective Losquadro at 770-904-7608.

You can report suspicious charitable solicitations to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Charities Division by calling 470-312-2640 or sending an email to charities@sos.ga.gov, or to the Georgia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by visiting consumer.ga.gov or calling 404-651-8600.

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