VILONIA, NORTH LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS
A-1 Towing & Recovery Inc. owner Terry Wyatt pleaded not guilty Monday to theft and insurance fraud allegations.
Terry Wyatt, 56, of Vilonia faces 13 felonies — first-degree engaging in a continuing criminal gang, four counts of theft of property, three counts of theft by receiving, four counts of insurance fraud and possession of firearms by certain persons — and is currently free on a $50,000 bond.
Charges were filed against Wyatt in connection to several possible fraudulent insurance claims made between Feb. 22, 2014, through Aug. 2, 2015.
According to a probable cause affidavit, the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office began investigating Wyatt after receiving information he may have committed insurance fraud.
“During their investigation in conjunction with the Arkansas Department of Insurance Criminal Investigation Division, it was found that Terry Wyatt committed or attempted to commit or solicited to commit a felony insurance fraud, theft and theft by receiving on at least four separate occasions with at least five other participants and that Terry Wyatt occupied a position of organizer, a supervisory position, or an other position of management,” the affidavit reads.
FCSO received a vehicle theft report from Wyatt’s shop at his residence on 56 Wyatt Lane in Vilonia on April 30, 2015.
Wyatt reported a white Mercury Mountaineer that was at the shop for repair was stolen from the shop.
According to the affidavit, he told FCSO he did not know who could have committed the theft. However, he later said “in a statement to the insurance company representative, Tom James, Mr. Wyatt indicated a possible suspect.”
The possible suspect, identified as Michael Helton, denied any involvement in the reported theft, but admitted to others.
Helton told FCSO “he had nothing to do with the reported theft, but said he had been involved in several other thefts and incidents with Terry Wyatt, and that he was willing to assist investigators in the investigation of a continuing theft and fraud scheme that had been perpetrated by Terry Wyatt for a long period of time.”
Helton told investigators he had helped Wyatt in two separate theft schemes “that involved the theft and destruction of boats in order for Wyatt to collect insurance money.”
The first scheme detailed to FCSO involved a 2009 Tahoe ski boat that had become A-1 Recovery’s property after it had been reported as abandoned property.
According to the affidavit, Wyatt offered Helton’s girlfriend, Crystal Qualls, $500 to purchase the boat and get it registered so he could later “take the boat away.”
“Helton stated that Terry Wyatt provided a fake bill of sale for Qualls, and made it appear that she had made a couple of payments, when she had not paid any money,” the affidavit states.
A-1 Recovery was listed as the boat’s lienholder and the insurance for the boat “was also taken out and paid for with a credit card belonging to A-1 Recovery.”
The motor was removed and stored at Wyatt’s farm on 56 Wyatt Lane and the two “used a track hoe to dig a hole, and then burned and buried the boat at Terry Wyatt’s direction on his property.”
The Poinsett County Sheriff’s Office received a theft report regarding the boat on Sept. 9, 2014. The lienholder, A-1 Recovery, was soon issued a $21,776.36 payment through Shelter Insurance.
The second alleged fraud involved a 2009 Nautique ski boat.
Wyatt had purchased the boat for personal use, according to the affidavit.
The plan was carried out similarly, Helton told investigators, noting it was sold to another employee and that the two later took the boat and buried it in a hole with brush. This time, however, the boat was insured through Allstate Insurance.
While burning the boat, “things got out of control” and the Vilonia Fire Department was called out to Wyatt’s farm, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit states, “The Vilonia Fire Department confirmed that they did in fact respond to a fire at Terry Wyatt’s home but stated that when they arrived, Terry Wyatt came running in from the pasture area to stop them. Wyatt told firefighters that he was burning brush and some diesel fuel exploded.
“He told firefighters that he didn’t want anyone down at the fire, and did not want the firefighters back on his property again.”
The fire was reported a few hours before the boat was reported stolen.
Statements regarding the boat’s condition differed, according to the affidavit. Some statements regarding its condition reported the boat was not in good condition and that it did not have a motor. Investigators were also told the boat was in “excellent shape” and Wyatt’s employee agreed on a $70,694.81 settlement.
The affidavit states the employee then transferred $67,000 of that money to Wyatt.
When searching for the hole used to burn the boats, FCSO located two marine boat motors “inside the shop just where Helton had said they would be.”
“During execution of the search warrant, there were also several large trailers found on the property which had the identification numbers ground off to a degree that they could not be determined even by advanced means,” the affidavit reads. “There was a Shadow camper trailer found that had been reported stolen out of Cabot Police Department which had most, but not all of the serial numbers missing.”
Helton also told investigators he helped Wyatt damage propellers on a boat and stage an accident to make it appear as if Wyatt swerved to miss running over a dog and hit the propellers. The two also staged an non-working lawnmower in the accident and Wyatt was able to take out two separate insurance claims, collecting $3,988.12 and $1,189.70 for the lawnmower respectively, according to the affidavit.
Investigators uncovered several insurance schemes they believe Wyatt conducted during their investigation.
A no contact order was issued Monday between Wyatt and Carl Webber, who had purchased the 2009 Nautique ski boat from Wyatt.
The Log Cabin Democrat was unable to reach Wyatt for comment Friday.
He is set to appear in Faulkner County Circuit Court next for a pretrial hearing at 9 a.m. May 3.