ARLINGTON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Transportation Division of Motor Vehicles has revoked the licenses for two car dealers with ties to Columbia County.
An investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Dealer and Agent Section found that Best Motors and Manhattan Motors sold vehicles with mileage discrepancies, which is in violation of state law. The dealerships have licenses operated out of Arlington, Wisconsin. The licenses are linked to a business at 101 Skyline Drive in Arlington. Under Wisconsin state law, each licensee must have an office location and Best Motors and Manhattan Motors are registered to this location.
It is possible that these licenses belong to dealerships operated in another state.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Dealer and Agent Section licenses, regulates and resolves disputes about dealerships sales and warranty repairs, as well as educates the motor vehicle industry and public. The group also investigates complaints about odometer tampering involving dealerships and private sellers.
BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) – Search warrants obtained by Target 2 Investigates reveal new information about a complex car fraud investigation in Northeast Wisconsin.
Robert Solberg and Joshua Taylor. Photos: Brown County Jail
Two men are accused of selling used vehicles with forged titles and altered odometers. In some cases, the odometers were rolled back. In other vehicles, they were replaced altogether.
Police say this happened over the past year at several locations in Wisconsin.
On June 3, Green Bay Police executed three search warrants and arrested Robert Solberg, 34, and Joshua Taylor, 37. The warrants were served at Solberg’s home, Taylor’s home, and a storage facility on Green Bay’s east side.
More than 40 pages of search warrants shed new light on the investigation. It started with one victim noticing handwriting on his vehicle’s title. The case took off from there.
WHAT WARRANTS TURNED UP
Warrants reveal that during searches of three properties, police seized six vehicles, phones, keys, titles, more than $4,000 in cash, and an odometer cluster–a tool used to alter mileage on a vehicle.
Officers also found multiple odometers. One was in a cardboard box. It had been shipped to Robert Solberg, warrants show.
The investigation started in March 2019. An odometer fraud investigator from the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles called Green Bay Police. The DMV needed help “with a report of title fraud and odometer tampering.”
A Brown County man had reported buying a GMC Yukon for $4,100 on Craigslist. He said he made the purchase from a man he didn’t know. He thought “the handwritten mileage on the title appeared forged from 214,450 miles to 114,459 miles.”
The odometer read the lower mileage, but was displaying an error code. He suspected some had “tampered with” it.
Police tracked down the original owner, who informed them that he had sold it days earlier–at nearly half the price. He said the vehicle had twice as many miles on it when he sold it.
The victim’s family started searching Craigslist and found more cars from the seller. There were listings around the state.
Police found another victim from Green Bay. He had purchased a vehicle that showed 114,000 miles on the odometer. However, he learned the vehicle’s real mileage was 300,000.
One witness told police “4-5 odometers [were] being shipped to [Solberg’s] house each week,” according to warrants. The documents state that Joshua Taylor bought the “odometer tool off eBay for $4,000.”
Police uncovered a voicemail from an Appleton store that had informed Solberg, “the odometer cluster he ordered was in stock.”
The warrants indicate Solberg would find vehicles on Craigslist and Taylor would roll back the miles. They split the profit 50-50, documents show.
Police have referred counts of theft and forgery to the Brown County District Attorney’s Office. No charges have been filed as of this publication. The investigation continues.
Joshua Taylor is being held in the Brown County Jail on a probation violation.
Robert Solberg has been released from jail.
Since our initial Target 2 Investigates story aired June 4, police have received numerous calls from other victims. They believe there are many more out there. If you believe you’re a victim, contact your local law enforcement agency.
“If you are a Green Bay resident or this occurred in the City of Green Bay, we certainly want to know about it because they were doing it in Marinette County, Wausau,” Green Bay Police Lt. Ben Allen says. “If this occurred where a purchase was made in another jurisdiction, we definitely encourage them to contact their local agency and we’ll try to coordinate with them.”
Like most big criminal cases, the odometer fraud ring that Missouri Highway Patrol Cpl. Nate Bradley recently busted started with one victim.
“A gentleman came to my shop here in Lee’s Summit and he said, ‘Hey, I bought this car, and I think I got swindled,'” Bradley recalls. “So I started looking into it and sure enough, he got swindled.”
Over a five-year investigation, Bradley eventually uncovered 48 victims of a rollback scheme around Kansas City, according to a grand jury indictment in a case that was recently unsealed.
Charged are 48-year-old Wilfred Albanese and his girlfriend, 47-year-old Susan Cunningham. The couple “purchased high-mileage used vehicles and then used a variety of means to alter or reduce the mileage shown on the odometer,” according to the indictment. They would also disable the check engine light, conceal rust and other damage with paint and alter maintenance records, all to make the car look better to their victims.
Bradley says Albanese went to great lengths to sell the scheme. He had “KC” tattooed on an earlobe, even though he is not from Kansas City. “And then on the side of his neck, he had the Marine Corps emblem, the globe and anchor,” says Bradley, even though Albanese never served in any branch of the military. “So it made him look a little bit more honorable than he actually was.”
While charged in the 20-count indictment, neither Albanese nor Cunningham is in custody.
Odometer fraud is spiking
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 450,000 cars are sold each year in the U.S. with rolled back odometers costing Americans more than $1 billion. In fact, NHTSA has federal agents who do nothing but odometer fraud investigations.
Missouri state officials are also seeing an increase. “Odometer fraud rose 4.7 percent in Missouri between 2017 and 2018,” Nick Humphrey, administrator of the Department of Revenue’s Compliance and Investigation Bureau, said in an email to KCUR.
Investigators say that many people believe that since odometers are now digital it is harder to roll them back. But just the opposite is true, and that is why fraud is on the rise. “Odometer technology has changed, and with that, the technology to roll them back has changed,” said Humphrey.
If you search YouTube for “odometer rollback tool” there are at least a dozen videos telling you what to buy and how to use them. On the web, however, they often are called odometer correction tools. One video is conveniently titled “Top 7 Best Odometer Correction Tools To Buy.”
Bradley from the Highway Patrol boils it down to this, “There’s an app for that.”
How to protect yourself when buying a used car
Bradley suggests buying a Carfax report as a starting point to check the mileage on a used car.
Compare the mileage on vehicle’s odometer with the mileage on the title, maintenance records or even oil change stickers.
Look at whether the numbers on the odometer align correctly or move when you hit the dashboard.
Check whether mileage matches the wear and tear on the vehicle.
“The mileage is a huge factor in the price of the car and when you roll the miles back 50,000 or 100,000 miles, you’re artificially inflating the value of that car,” Chris Basso with Carfax said in a video posted by Motorweek.org. Carfax is a company that provides histories of used cars.
LITTLETON, Colo. — The U.S. Justice Department calls it “clocking”: intentionally rolling back an odometer to make a vehicle appear less used.
Odometer rollback is “the single most common fraudulent issue in Colorado and nationwide.” That’s a bold statement made by one of this state’s top auto enforcement regulators.
So, based on a tip from one of our viewers, the FOX31 Problem Solvers decided to take a closer look at a business which advertises “odometer correction.”
Odo-Pro is a licensed business registered to the address of a corner house in Littleton.
State records show its owner is Peter Petrov Rains.
He sells parts and auto repair services, mostly through via mail.
Odometer repair and adjustment is permitted in some instances under the federal law. However, “if the mileage on the odometer cannot remain the same as before the service, the odometer must be reset to zero.”
What is not permitted is rolling miles on a vehicle backwards with the intent to defraud.
Here’s part of the federal law which says so:
327.03 A person may not
(2) disconnect, reset, alter, or have disconnected, reset, or altered, an odometer of a motor vehicle intending to change the mileage registered by the odometer;
(3) with intent to defraud..
The FOX31 Problem Solvers tested to see if Odo-Pro would reduce the miles, no questions asked, on one of our old news cars: a 2005 Dodge Durango.
We had a mechanic remove the odometer, which had 195,839 well-documented miles on it.
The FOX31 investigative team then printed off a single-sheet form we found on Odo-Pro’s website. It’s said “Odometer Correction Form” at the top.
We requested our odometer be programmed backwards — rolled back to 150, 839 — a 45,000-mile reduction.
The form required us to acknowledge that “altering the odometer for personal gain is illegal.”
And that “owners have a legal obligation to notify prospective purchasers if the vehicle’s mileage has been altered.”
We mailed our instrument cluster, an $89 cashier’s check from a local convenience store and that form to Odo-Pro in Littleton.
Four days later, our digital odometer came back in a box with “Peter Petrov’s” business card. The mileage was altered per our request: backward 45,000 miles from the original 195,839.
When the Problem Solvers team went to Odo-Pro to ask about its business practices, a man we’d seen working at Odo-Pro answered the door. He said he didn’t speak English. However, FOX31 was able to reach Peter Petrov Rains by phone from the front porch of the business address.
FOX31 asked Rains: “We had some complaints about your Odo-Pro business. That you’re essentially just rolling back odometers.”
Rains responded by telling our reporter, “What we do mainly, uh, we work only with parts. We don’t work on any kind of vehicles. We re-program clusters that have been replaced. So, we do pretty much what dealerships do. Just at a much lower cost.”
When FOX31 asked if he’d like to do an interview to explain how Odo-Pro’s “correction” program works, Rains declined.
While we were standing in front of Odo-Pro, it was hard not to notice the piles of boxes and packets heading to other states via the U.S. Postal Service: Florida, Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, among others.
FOX31 called customers listed on packages, who confirmed some of the boxes indeed contained instrument clusters. None admitted to requesting rollbacks.
Chairman of the Automotive Service Association of Colorado, Brad Pellman, had never heard of Odo-Pro or Peter Rains before FOX31 called.
Pellman was curious how Rains was able to conduct a seemingly vibrant parts-and-services business correcting odometers.
“Until you brought it to my attention, I wasn’t even aware that this was being done by anybody but dealers or some kind of licensed secured facility that had the rights to do it,” Pellman told FOX31 during a recorded interview.
Pellman said that once in a great while, an auto-repair facility might re-set an odometer backwards for a vintage car or some other unique reason, but he says it’s not very common at all.
“Rolling back an odometer is certainly something we don’t even think about doing in our industry,” said Pellman. “The incentive seems to be that it would put less mileage on the odometers for a purpose I would consider fraudulent.”
FOX31 spoke with state and federal authorities who regulate and investigate reported cases of fraudulent odometer rollback services. Although declining on-camera interviews, agents said based on what happened with our TV vehicle’s odometer alone, they have serious questions about Odo-Pro’s business practices.
* FOX31 made certain the Durango — and that odometer — we used for this investigation would not be re-sold except for parts.
SIOUX CITY, IOWA (AP) — A Nebraska man has been given three years of probation for tampering with odometers sold at his vehicle dealership in northwest Iowa.
The Sioux City Journal reports that 38-year-old Francisco Hurtado also was sentenced Wednesday to a suspended prison sentence of five years, fined $1,500 and ordered to pay more than $19,000 to seven victims. He’d pleaded guilty to two counts of fraudulent practice.
Authorities say Hurtado lives in South Sioux City, Nebraska, and owns Siouxland Auto Sales in Sioux City. Iowa investigators say they found odometers in high-mileage vehicles had been rolled down to increase the vehicles’ value.
Court records say Hurtado acknowledged replacing odometer clusters on some vehicles. The records say, however, that Hurtado had not followed Iowa law in resetting the replaced odometers to zero or to the original mileage, nor placing notices on the dashboards noting that the odometer clusters had been replaced.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) – A former Kennett, Missouri man has been sentenced on felony mail fraud.
According to the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office, Nicholas H. Brock, 36, now of Brookland, Arkansas, was sentenced to four months home confinement and five years of probation for mail fraud.
Brock was also order to pay $78,180.98 in restitution.
In his guilty plea in federal court on Nov. 5, 2018, Brock admitted to defrauding a lienholder for an over-the-road tractor trailer truck claim to the Missouri Department of Revenue that he towed a truck for a breakdown.
He claimed the truck had been abandoned and tried to get a title for the vehicle through the Department of Revenue.
Brock admitted in court that the fraud began on or about Feb. 10, 2017 and continued through or about June 13, 2017 in Dunklin County, Mo.
The case was investigated by the Missouri Department of Revenue and the Missouri State Highway Patrol and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Paul W. Hahn.
Jackson, Miss. – Mark Longgrear, 54, of Jackson, was sentenced today to 57 months in prison, and his son, Zachary Longgrear, 29, of Madison, was sentenced to 28 months in prison by United States District Judge Carlton W. Reeves for conspiring to reset and alter the odometers of motor vehicles, to giving or causing to be given false statements relating to odometers, and securities fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst and Special Agent-in-Charge Midwest Region, Kevin L. Porter with the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Longgrears were also ordered to pay restitution, jointly and severally, in the amount of $1.5 million.
From 2014 through at least February 2018, Mark Longgrear, along with his son, Zachary Longgrear, both individually and under their company Southern Auto Buyers LLC, bought a large number of late model, high mileage vehicles from numerous sources, and thereafter illegally altered the odometers of these vehicles to show lower mileage. The Defendants forged and fraudulently created paperwork to secure new titles showing false lower mileage on these vehicles, and then sold the vehicles directly to individuals and automobile dealerships at much higher prices. Some of these rolled-back vehicles were subsequently sold by the dealerships to consumers in the Mississippi area and elsewhere. Over 200 vehicles have been confirmed with rolled-back odometers.
The case is the result of an investigation by the United States Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation, with assistance from the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Keesha Middleton.
Odometer fraud is the disconnection, resetting, or alteration of a vehicle’s odometer with the intent to change the number of miles indicated. NHTSA estimates that more than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings. It costs American consumers more than $1 billion annually.
NHTSA has established a special hotline to handle odometer fraud complaints. Individuals who have information relating to odometer tampering should call (202) 366-4761.
Department of Justice
St. Louis, MO – Melvin Harmon was sentenced to 33 months incarceration and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $119,359.92 for conspiracy to defraud the United States and mail fraud by assisting Missouri residents in registering their cars in Illinois.
According to evidence at trial, between January 1, 2015 and December 20, 2016, Melvin Harmon was employed at a Granite City, Illinois office registering vehicles for the State of Illinois Secretary of State. He used his employment to assist Missouri residents in obtaining fraudulent motor vehicle registrations for others in exchange for a fee. Some of the Missouri residents learned of his services when they saw flyers advertising Harmon as “The Plate Man.”
In March 2016, investigators with the Illinois Secretary of State discovered that Harmon had been charging Missouri residents $350.00 to $700.00 in order to fraudulently register their cars in Illinois. Doing so enabled the Missouri residents to evade payment of Missouri taxes. In addition, Harmon altered the price of the vehicles in order to reduce any payments that would be paid to the State of Illinois as a result of the fraudulent registration. The alteration increased the amount he profited through the scheme. The State of Missouri lost in excess of $119,359.92 in sales tax revenue due to the fraudulent conduct. The precise loss of personal property tax income to the State of Missouri and local municipalities has not been determined.
Harmon, 40, Belleville, IL, was found guilty on May 18, 2108 after a federal jury returned five guilty verdicts. He appeared before U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey.
The case was investigated by the Missouri Department of Revenue-Compliance and Investigation Bureau and the State of Illinois Secretary of State Police. This case was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Tracy Berry and Dianna Collins.
Original Article: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edmo/pr/illinois-motor-vehicle-employee-known-plate-plan-sentenced-vehicle-registration-fraud
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — The United States Attorney’s Office announced that Nicholas H. Brock, 36, of Kennett, Missouri, pled guilty to one felony count of mail fraud. He appeared before United States District Judge John A. Ross.
Brock admitted that beginning on or about Feb. 10, 2017, and continuing through about June 13, 2017, in Dunklin County, Missouri, he defrauded a lienholder for an over-the-road tractor-trailer truck financed by North Mill Equipment Finance, LLC, for a 2008 Peterbilt over-the-road truck in which the lender retained a security interest. Brock prepared and sent, via the mail, a Form 4577, Missouri Department of Revenue, Vehicle Owner and Lienholder notification to the lender, falsely claiming that a 2008 Peterbilt over-the-road tractor-trailer truck had been towed by his towing company, Elite Tow & Recovery, from Pendleton, Oregon, on February 10, 2017, for a “breakdown.” The towing charge was $16,096 plus storage costs of $100 a day. Brock mailed the fraudulent Form 4577 for the purpose of obtaining a clean title for that vehicle from the Missouri Department of Revenue as an abandoned vehicle, based on the lienholder’s failure to pay the tow bill after receiving notice of the bill.
Brock also prepared a Form 4576, Missouri Department of Revenue Abandoned Property Affidavit, in which Brock falsely represented to the Missouri Department of Revenue that the 2008 Peterbilt truck had been abandoned. Brock mailed that form to the Missouri Department of Revenue to obtain a Certificate of Title for the over-the-road truck, based on a bogus and false tow bill.
On or about May 11, 2017, Brock caused the mailing of an Application for Missouri Title and License for the 2008 Peterbilt over-the-road truck to the Missouri Department of Revenue to obtain a Missouri Certificate of Title for the 2008 Peterbilt truck. Brock then obtained a Missouri Certificate of Title for the 2008 Peterbilt over-the-road truck in the name of Elite Tow and Recovery from the Missouri Department of Revenue.
Brock pled guilty on Nov. 5. His sentencing is set for March 18, 2019. Brock faces a maximum punishment of 20 years of imprisonment and a fine up to $250,000.
This case was investigated by the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Missouri Department of Revenue. Assistant United States Attorney Paul W. Hahn handled the prosecution for the Government.
A number of stolen vehicles were found inside a suspected ‘chop shop’ in Independence.
When officers inspected a storage lot, they found dismantled vehicles with VIN numbers missing.
Among them was the truck that belonged to Brian Sollars, who posted a picture of his stolen 2012 GMC online on the Stolen KC Facebook page.
Sollars said a stranger reached out to him shortly after, providing details about the truck.
“He said he knew where my truck was and described it perfectly,” Sollars said. “He asked me if I had a pen and paper and told me to write it down. I thought he was full of it at first.”
The address was for a storage lot off Atherton Road near 24 Highway in Independence. Sollars reported the tip to investigators who got permission to inspect the property.
Inside there was a stolen tow dolly and a stolen John Deer gator. Outside, there was a stolen Kawasaki motorcycle, a stolen F350 truck, two stolen Dodge trucks and a stolen Harley Davidson tricycle bike.
Randall Bennett III, the man who was subleasing the lot, is charged with operating an auto salvage business without a license.