WEST BURLINGTON - A used vehicle dealership is in legal trouble after an Iowa Department of Transportation inquiry resulted in 14 simple and aggravated misdemeanor charges against two of the owners.
Jon Salvador, a co-owner of Family Motors, 1013 W. Agency Road, is charged with seven simple misdemeanors and five aggravated misdemeanors, ranging from the sale of vehicles without titles to failure to maintain odometer records, according to Maj. Paul Steier of the IDOT Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division.
The other owner, Dan Wenig, also is charged with failure to maintain odometer records and failure to take possession of five vehicle titles prior to sale, an aggravated misdemeanor and a simple misdemeanor, respectively.
Salvador and Wenig will make separate initial appearances at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, Tuesday in Des Moines County Associate Court.
The brothers-in-law and their wives co-own the business, hence its name, though neither of the women face charges after the IDOT investigation.
Wenig declined to comment, but Salvador denied he did anything illegal and is confident he will be cleared in court.
"A lot of those infractions and citations are just trumped up, ridiculous, clerical errors. Not a big deal," he said.
Of Salvador's simple misdemeanor charges, two are for improper issuance of "Registration Applied For" cards to vehicle purchasers who did not pay the requisite tax and fees associated with the card. The cards are issued to purchasers who do not have plates for their vehicles at the time of purchase.
"(Dealers) can only issue those if they collect the tax, title and license fee," Steier said, adding depending on the circumstances and number of occurrences, IDOT can regard such breaches of protocol as fairly serious offenses.
"The dealer fills it out, so it's kind of an honor system that the dealer is doing it correctly," Steier said. "So when they abuse that privilege, because it is a privilege to be able to issue those, we look at that as a pretty serious issue. Those 'Registration Applied For' cards are very valuable documents, because it gives you the ability to operate your car on the highway."
Salvador also is charged with four instances of improperly handling vehicle titles, ranging from obtaining vehicles without titles and offering them for consignment sale, to failure to deliver titles upon the sale of a vehicle. The charges are simple misdemeanors, which, according to Steier, are clearly prohibited by Iowa law.
"A dealer, by Iowa law, is required to have the title assigned to them to show proof of ownership," Steier said. "When you go to buy the vehicle, you should have confidence that the dealer is the rightful owner and that they're not consigning it for someone else."
Consignment sales are illegal under Iowa law, he added.
"The bottom line is the title has to be assigned to the dealership if it's in their lot," Steier said, noting the inclusion of titles in vehicle sales is a basic protection to consumers.
Steier said in some instances the failure to obtain titles for vehicles can be the result of clerical error, though in other cases it can be done purposefully. Taking legal action is IDOT's way of making sure the issue doesn't become a larger problem, Steier said.
"We want to negate that or stop that from happening up front," Steier said.
Salvador said in many cases, the titles for his vehicles were not immediately included by the auction houses from which they were purchased.
An additional simple misdemeanor charge of failure to maintain plate records also has been leveled against Salvador. Iowa Code section 321.62 states dealerships are required to keep written records of special plates used on vehicles that pass through their lots.
According to court documents, Family Motors was issued 12 such special plates, 11 of which have no record as to their location or current usage.
Salvador's five aggravated misdemeanor charges stem from a failure to maintain odometer records on certain vehicles, which Iowa code classifies as fraudulent practices.
"That's just a step below a felony," Steier said.
Several odometer statements on certain vehicles at Family Motors were left blank, which Steier said raises suspicions some of them may have been tampered with. Misleading customers about the true mileage of vehicles by leaving the odometer records blank is a serious offense in the IDOT's eyes, Steier said.
"It's suspicious, because it would lead one, at least the investigators in our office, to maybe look a little further," he said. "Why is that? Why are they not filling those out? Because if it's not documented at the time of sale, that means that vehicle could be used by the dealer for an extended period of time and potentially could open up the possibility for odometer tampering."
Salvador contests the IDOT's claim, pointing out mileages automatically are included on the back of every vehicle title. Salvador said the IDOT took issue with the exclusion of additional mileage records, which he added are not included in vehicles that are 10 years old or older.
Regardless, Steier said the odometer records were not kept to IDOT standards.
"Obviously, that's something that will be contested in court, I'm sure," he said.
Wenig is charged with an aggravated misdemeanor count of failure to maintain odometer records, as well as one simple misdemeanor charge of failure to obtain the title from five vehicles prior to offering them up for sale.
Des Moines County Attorney Pat Jackson, whose office will prosecute the charges, said each charge could result in a fine ranging from $65 to $625.
Original article: http://www.thehawkeye.com/story/Family-Motors-072812