Contact: Ken Daley, Public Information
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office has secured felony theft convictions against two former New Orleans East car sales managers who defrauded customers and their dealership out of an estimated $350,000.
Criminal District Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier, however, imposed no jail time upon Bryan Ashley Collins (pictured above left) and Lawrence “Mike” Thornton. Each received a three-year prison sentence that was suspended on Tuesday (Feb. 26), along with three years of active probation and an order to pay $10,000 each in restitution. Additional reimbursement is being sought through a civil court judgment.
Collins, 49, was the general manager and Thornton, 48, the finance manager for Premier Honda, part of owner Troy Duhon’s Premier Automotive Group. The defendants were arrested in 2017 after several irregularities were found in purchase deals involving at least 40 customers dating back to 2011.
Other dealership officials uncovered a scheme in which Collins and Thornton targeted a group of mostly female customers with credit problems, who needed immediate transportation at the time of their transactions. The defendants used their access to these customers and their authority over purchase deals to pocket customers’ down payments without issuing receipts. They would then send the customers out with “loaner” vehicles or used cars with temporary tags while supposedly working to finalize their purchase.
In at least one instance, Collins apparently lost track of all the vehicles he had dispatched to duped customers and reported one as stolen. New Orleans police arrested a woman at her home on suspicion of possession of a stolen vehicle, leading to a separate lawsuit against the dealership seeking $50,000 in damages.
“Once the scheme was uncovered, it was learned by Premier that there were literally dozens of vehicles in Premier’s inventory that could not be located,” said Tracey Fields, the dealership’s customer care coordinator, in a victim impact statement read to the court. “The direct and indirect losses to Premier’s inventory caused by Mr. Collins giving out so many cars to perpetrate his scheme ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
In a separate impact statement, Duhon said, “Like Mr. Thornton, I considered Mr. Collins to be a personal friend on top of being an employee, which makes the damage he caused all the more difficult to absorb.”
Thornton pleaded guilty as charged to felony theft on Feb. 15. Collins pleaded no contest to felony theft on Feb. 26, when both were sentenced.
Assistant District Attorney David Pipes prosecuted the case.
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