When Kristi Smith and her husband, Patrick, bought their Subaru from a Standish man in January 2017, she knew something seemed off.
The 2005 Outback had only 117,000 miles on it, and for the Smith family, the price was right – $3,500.
“We went to go buy the car and the guy wouldn’t look me in the face,” said Kristi Smith, 43. “But it was a really good deal with low miles, so it was like, ‘Whatever.’ ”
Now, 15 months and several thousand dollars in car repairs later, the Smiths are among more than a dozen car buyers who were allegedly suckered by James Shaw, 35, who has been charged with tampering with the vehicles’ odometers and other crimes.
Shaw was supposed to appear Thursday in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court to answer to the 17-count complaint, but he didn’t show up, so a judge issued a warrant for his arrest, court records show.
The complaint, issued by the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles, is the culmination of two years of work.
Until Thursday, the Smiths were unaware that their vehicle was the subject of a criminal complaint, or that the car’s mileage was fraudulent.
When Kristi Smith heard the charges that Shaw faces, things clicked. The car that Shaw sold the Smiths had closer to 200,000 miles on it when they bought it, the complaint said.
“It actually answers a bunch of questions for us,” she said. “We’ve had nothing but problems with that stinkin’ Subaru.”
The couple has sunk another $3,500 into repairs of the car, and Patrick Smith, 42, said he wouldn’t feel right about selling it knowing it had so many problems.
SUSPECT COULD FACE MULTIPLE YEARS IN JAIL
In all, Shaw is charged with 14 counts of odometer tampering, a Class C felony, and one count each of aggravated forgery, theft by deception, and selling cars without a dealer’s license. Shaw faces up to five years in prison and a maximum $5,000 fine if convicted of the aggravated forgery charge, and one year in jail on each of the odometer tampering charges.
A call to a phone number for Shaw listed in the complaint was not working, and a phone number for his multiple addresses in Standish and Steep Falls could not be located.
Shaw lists himself as self-employed on Facebook, and his page features a prominent photograph of a pristine, late-model Chevrolet Camaro.
According to court records, detectives confronted Shaw at the garage he rents at the Limington airport. When shown documents describing the mileage discrepancies, Shaw said he didn’t remember the sales because of injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident while going 130 mph.
He admitted to replacing odometers in some of the vehicles, but would not say where he got the lower-mileage parts. Shaw said he was told by an employee at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that he did not need to tell potential buyers that the odometer had been replaced and the mileage was not accurate.
According to a detective, Shaw dealt mostly with vehicles over 10 years old to avoid close scrutiny of the mileage during the title transfer process.
“Shaw admitted to changing the odometers because they were broken when he purchased the vehicle and not disclosing that fact based on inaccurate or incomplete information provided to him,” Detective Roger P. Nagy wrote. “It is nearly impossible to have purchased at least 13 vehicles with broken odometers.”
ONE VICTIM REACTS: ‘YOU’VE MADE MY DAY’
Some of Shaw’s alleged victims also were close to him.
In one case described in the detective’s narrative filed in court papers, a Gorham woman, Gina Pressey, told investigators that Shaw had been her friend for some time and that she was also his hairstylist.
Pressey told them that Shaw bragged how he often bought and sold vehicles without getting the title in his name – a practice known as “floating” a title.
In Maine, a vehicle dealer is considered anyone who buys vehicles for the purpose of resale, sells more than five vehicles in any 12-month period, or who in a 30-day period advertises three or more vehicles for sale, or displays three or more vehicles for sale on a premises they control.
Pressey asked Shaw if he could find her a car with less than 120,000 miles. Shaw told her he found a 2004 Ford with 88,000 miles on it, but because the car’s computer had been changed, it showed 190,000 miles.
Pressey believed him that the actual mileage was lower and bought the car. She told detectives that if she had known the car had been driven nearly 200,000 miles, she wouldn’t have bought it.
Another alleged victim, Carol Fahey of Wells, bought a Subaru from Shaw in June 2016, but quickly discovered that one of the car’s subframes, the heavy metal structure onto which the suspension is attached, was rotted out.
Shaw had painted over the rust to conceal it, the court records state.
Fahey confronted Shaw and he told her he would fix the car – a promise he never followed through on, she said in a phone interview.
That was nearly two years ago, she said. Fahey kept calling the BMV detective and feeding him information on Shaw’s activities online.
When Fahey learned that Shaw was to face felony charges, she rejoiced.
“You’ve made my day,” said Fahey, 61. “I’ve been obsessed with this guy.”
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: