The car salesman opened the rear hatch of a black Ford Explorer at the Texas dealership, revealing three rifles and what appeared to be over 2,000 rounds of ammunition.
Joshua Ellard had led the undercover officer to a more secluded area of the lot because, as he explained, he’d gotten into trouble before for doing gun deals at Covert Auto Group dealership in Hutto, according to court documents.
Federal authorities say a tipster alerted them to these firearms sales, and they opened an investigation into Ellard and Craig Tondre, the general sales manager.
Officers had spotted the same Ford Explorer, which is registered to the dealership, parked at Tondre’s home on the morning of Feb. 24, authorities say.
“Let me get with Craig and have him bring our inventory to work with us and I’ll let you come by and see what we have,” Ellard texted the undercover officer before their meetup, according to court documents.
After meeting Ellard at the dealership, authorities say the inventory in the back of the Explorer included an Aero Precision pistol with a “drop in auto-sear switch” inside — allowing the gun to fire multiple rounds with the pull of a trigger.
The firearm is considered a machine gun and prohibited under federal law. The undercover officer bought it for $1,500, authorities say.
Ellard promised more guns and even a silencer in the future and pulled out a wad of $5,000 in cash, authorities say. Asked where he got the money, Ellard said he made it selling guns and cars, according to court documents.
The next day, Ellard met the undercover officer at the dealership and sold him a silencer and ammunition for $1,100, authorities say.
About two weeks later, another detective arranged to buy an AR-style rifle.
“You’d actually be buying it from my boss,” Ellard said, according to court documents. “So just let me know and I’ll have him put a flash light and the sig red dot on it and bring it over for you, probably tomorrow.”
An officer conducting surveillance on Tondre’s home spotted him leave with an AR-style rifle in a Mercedes SUV and followed him to the dealership, authorities say. There, the undercover officer bought the rifle from Ellard for $2,500, authorities say.
On March 31, Ellard sold the officer two more AR-style rifles from a safe in Tondre’s garage, authorities say.
On April 9, Tondre was arrested on a charge of dealing firearms without a license.
Ellard was arrested the same day on charges of possession of a machine gun and felon in possession of a firearm. In 1995, Ellard was convicted of second-degree murder and grand theft of a motor vehicle and served 15 years on prison, according to records.
In a statement to KXAN on Wednesday, Covert Auto Group, a longtime dealership with several locations in the Austin area, said Tondre and Ellard were fired immediately after it learned of their arrests.
“Covert Ford Hutto was not aware of any alleged illegal activity by these employees on our premises until the time of arrests,” the statement said. “Once we learned of the arrests, they were terminated. The actions of these former employees do not reflect the values and business practices of Covert Ford Hutto. No member of management or ownership knew of any illegal activity prior to the arrests of the individuals.”