Prosecutors said this week they believe an employee at a Roanoke automobile dealership made off with roughly a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of parts across 2017 and 2018, then sold them for less than a tenth of their value.

On Monday, Gregory Sherwood Thompson, 54, entered a Alford plea of guilt to one count of embezzlement.

The use of an Alford plea typically means defendants maintain their innocence but agree that enough evidence exists for a potential conviction.

In a summary of that evidence, deputy prosecutor Donald Wolthuis said that until last year, Thompson had been employed as a parts manager for Berglund Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram on Franklin Road in southwest Roanoke.

During his tenure, Thompson “scrapped out brand-new catalytic converters,” Wolthuis said, then traded them for cash at a recycling center within sight of the dealership.

Based on inventory records, Wolthuis estimated about 590 converters were taken and then sold in 77 separate transactions, some of which he said were conducted by Thompson personally while others were done by other employees at Thompson’s request.

All told, Wolthuis said, about $248,000 worth of catalytic converters were turned in for cash totaling about $23,400.

Catalytic converters reduce the toxicity of a vehicle’s emissions and are often objects of theft because they contain platinum.

Thompson was indicted by a grand jury in August 2018 and has been free on $6,000 bond since then.

As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors dropped a second count of embezzlement.

The remaining count could bring Thompson up to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced this fall. His plea deal comes with no agreement on his punishment, but it has been stipulated that he will have to pay restitution for the cost of the parts.

Thompson’s attorney, Aaron Houchens, said Monday he would wait until the sentencing to present evidence and arguments, but during a motions hearing in the case in April, he suggested the crux of Thompson’s defense, had the case gone to trial, was the question of whether the scheme originated under someone else’s direction.

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