By Shereen Siewert

The owner of a Stratford classic car service this week reached a plea deal in a fraudulent auto restoration scheme, according to court documents.

Prosecutors say Troy Kuyoth and Kuyoth’s Body & Custom, Inc. tampered with and altered the identification numbers for an extremely rare classic vehicle, a 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429, which has an estimated value of more than $350,000. Investigators say Kuyoth’s company installed a replacement engine and transmission in the Mustang with identification numbers that were altered to make it appear as though they were the original factory-supplied parts for the vehicle.

Kuyoth and his company were charged with altering or removing a vehicle ID, a federal offense, on Oct. 12.

The company came to the attention of federal investigators more than a year ago, after evidence emerged suggesting that Kuyoth and his company obtained classic cars, tampered with the VIN and part numbers and fraudulently sold them as “numbers-matching” vehicles worth many thousands of dollars more than an ordinary restored car. In the scheme, prosecutors say the buyer thins they are receiving an original, number-matching car and are paying a premium for it. But in reality, they are buying a more ordinary restoration with tampered numbers altered on purpose.

State and local agents on Aug. 25, 2022 searched Kuyoth’s Body & Custom after a Marathon County judge signed a warrant, and seized several items including the Mustang. The search warrant identified various items “concealed on the premises and vehicle” including VIN tags and plates, mobile electronic devices, business records and tools associated with stamping, removing and altering VIN tags and plates, court records state. A former employee told investigators that the engine VIN on the Mustang had been tampered with, according to federal documents.

In his plea agreement, Kuyoth admitted that mechanics working for his company ground off the serial numbers on the replacement engine and transmission and replaced the numbers with hand-stamped serial numbers, making the parts appear to be original. Then, after a five-year restoration process, the vehicle was advertised for sale at a price of $375,000.

Police say the vehicle was sold to an out-of-state buyer who returned the vehicle for a refund due to reasons unrelated to the criminal complaint.

On Oct. 11, Kuyoth agreed to waive indictment and pleaded guilty to the one-count information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend Kuyoth pay a fine of $95,000 at sentencing and be barred for three years from advertising or selling classic cars as number-matching vehicles “when in fact they include non-original factory-supplied parts that were installed by the defendant’s mechanics.” The Mustang will be returned to Kuyoth, if a judge agrees with the prosecutor’s recommendation.

Prosecutors will recommend lenience from the judge because Kuyoth accepted responsibility for his actions, court records show. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of extended supervision.

Such scams are not uncommon nationwide. Auto World News in August cautioned classic car enthusiasts to be wary of crooked auto repair shops that take advantage of fake positive reviews on Google and Yelp and online marketing tools to bring in their victims. Advocates say the auto repair industry is subject to subpar regulation that attracts scammers and say government watchdogs should be on the lookout for similar schemes to protect consumers.

The next hearing in the case is set for Oct. 19.