TOLEDO, Ohio — Stolen buses, sham companies, theft and fraud.
A manhunt that spanned two states.
We first brought you the story of Derrick Jones, the "Bus Bandit," back in 2018 as a special investigation by WTOL 11 anchor Andrew Kinsey.
Now, Jones and another Toledoan, Kelly Thomas, have been indicted on 11 counts total of conspiracy to transport and possession of stolen vehicles, operating a chop shop, violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud - handed down by a federal grand jury in Cleveland.
Jones and Thomas, working together, allegedly owned and operated several motor coach companies that offered charter transportation to passengers in Ohio, including Destiny Tours, Kelly Tours, Marie’s Tour’s and Travel, Elite Tours, and GT Tours. However, according to the indictment, none of these companies were ever properly registered with any state and few of the offered tours took place.
For sixteen years, between 2003 and 2019, the two ran their scams.
The indictment reads that Jones stole buses from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois - transporting them to chop shops in Ohio and Michigan on numerous occasions between 2003 and 2018. Thomas and Jones would then deface the buses by painting them, swapping license plates and stripping VIN numbers.
Many of the stolen or relabeled buses were found in the northwest Ohio or southeast Michigan area. The indictment outlines the times that Jones stole or received stolen buses, listing at least 13 instances between 2003 and 2018.
According to the indictment, from 2006 until March 2018, Jones and Thomas also operated a chop shop on West Alexis.
The two would advertise charter services from their non-existent companies in papers and on social media.
A manhunt began in 2018 for Jones, after he scammed Toledo-area fans of Robert Easter Jr. out of a trip to Brooklyn to see the local boxer's title fight.
The group of fans had signed a contract to travel on a charter bus through the company owned by Derrick Jones. But, the bus and Jones never showed up.
James Easter, Robert Easter Jr.'s business manager, paid Jones $2,200 upfront. Easter says that Jones stopped answering his calls and ceased all communication.
Desperate for answers, Easter came to WTOL.
WTOL's Andrew Kinsey began investigating the case, uncovering over 30 years of crimes committed by Jones that expanded well beyond the Toledo area.
A tip by Andrew Kinsey to officers led them directly to one of the stolen buses, in Erie Township. Investigators determined it was the same bus that was advertised as the one that would have taken the Toledo fans to New York.
The manhunt by Erie Township police crossed two states.
In March 2018, three months after our first report on the "Bus Bandit", Jones was arrested in Romulus by Michigan State Police. Jones was the primary suspect in the case of yet another stolen bus out of Tennessee that was later found in Michigan. And, in the case of a bus stolen from Williamsburg, Ohio.
Jones was caught on our cameras, denying all involvement and any knowledge of stolen buses to Andrew Kinsey.
Ahead of the grand jury's indictment, both Jones and Thomas entered pleas of not guilty.
Thomas was released on bail, while Jones is being held at the Lucas County Corrections Center without bond.