8 from St. Louis area sentenced for vehicle title fraud ring

ST. LOUIS • Eight St. Louis-area men and women have been sentenced for their involvement in a ring that altered vehicle documents to obtain loans, prosecutors said Thursday.

The ring altered documents to remove lienholders before selling the vehicles or to obtain new loans, prosecutors said. They also reduced the value of the vehicles on documents or changed the state of residence of owners to dodge taxes and license fees, they said.

Federal, state and local investigators were able to document $311,000 in losses due to the scheme, but estimate that the true loss amount approached $1 million.

The eight defendants received prison terms ranging from probation to more than 11 years in prison.

The final defendant in the case, Justin Carter, 22, of St. Louis, was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison. The leader, Randall Hinton, 33, of St. Louis was sentenced Aug. 11 to 11 years, four months in prison, prosecutors said.

Original Article: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/from-st-louis-area-sentenced-for-vehicle-title-fraud-ring/article_caf48294-7e55-5095-9ab7-c77e17635956.html 

Thirteen Area People Indicted On Fraud Charges Involving Motor Vehicle Titles


November 17, 2014

St. Louis, MO – RANDALL HINTON was indicted in August on multiple fraud charges involving his scheme to alter and counterfeit documents in order to obtain state issued motor vehicle titles for himself and others.  Last week, twelve additional individuals were indicted in two separate indictments for their part in the use of the altered and counterfeited documents to obtain motor vehicle titles and motor vehicle title loans.

According to the indictments, the schemes involving the defendants resulted in financial losses to the State of Missouri, financial institutions, title loan companies and individuals.  As the documents were often altered to decrease the value of the vehicles or to change the state of residence of the vehicle owners to addresses in Illinois, the owners of the vehicles were able to evade paying the appropriate taxes and license fees to the Department of Revenue for the State of Missouri.  When Hinton removed the names of financial institutions which had financed the purchases of the vehicles from legitimate titles, Hinton, Arronda Williams and others were able to sell the vehicles to innocent purchasers who were then unable to register the vehicles due to existing liens.  The final aspect of the scheme enabled individuals to use the altered documents to obtain motor vehicle title loans from companies located throughout the United States.  As a result of existing liens or the fact that the value of the vehicles was less than the defendants represented, the title loan companies experienced large financial losses.

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Lebanon Car Dealer Indicted For Fraudulent Titles, Falsified Mileage On Dozens Of Vehicles

September 5, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that a Lebanon, Mo., automobile dealer has been indicted by a federal grand jury for a mail fraud scheme in which he sold dozens of vehicles with fraudulent titles that greatly underreported the actual mileage of the vehicles.

Kenneth W. Smith, 60, of Lebanon, was charged in a seven-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield, Mo., on Aug. 26, 2014. That indictment has been unsealed and made public upon Smith’s arrest and initial court appearance.

Smith operates Cars Unlimited in Lebanon. According to today’s indictment, Smith obtained fraudulent replacement titles for dozens of vehicles that were sold by Cars Unlimited between February 2010 and Nov. 7, 2011. Smith (operating through Cars Unlimited) allegedly applied for and received 54 replacement titles from the state of Missouri, each of which underreported the vehicle’s actual mileage between 95,000 and 209,000 miles. Smith allegedly resold these 54 vehicles at auto auctions using the fraudulent replacement titles. These 54 vehicles were sold for an aggregate total of approximately $346,450.

Beginning in February 2010, when Smith purchased vehicles (through Cars Unlimited) at auto auctions, the vehicle titles he received showed each vehicle's actual mileage. After purchasing a vehicle, Smith allegedly submitted an "Application for Missouri Title and License" seeking a replacement title for the vehicle. Although he sought a replacement title, the indictment says, he in fact possessed the original title for the vehicle.

In each of those instances, Smith allegedly forged the signatures of the previous owner of the vehicle. The state of Missouri prepared a replacement title that was mailed to Smith at Cars Unlimited.

The federal indictment charges Smith with seven counts of mail fraud.

Dickinson cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Milligan. It was investigated by the FBI and the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Springfield cops say they’ve busted national crime ring involving stolen trailers

SPRINGFIELD, Mo -- A national crime ring - busted.

Investigators say a trailer theft operation here in the Ozarks reached far across the USA.

Detectives say South Valley Trailer, LLC, located at 1219 E. Division Street, would steal trailers, change the vin numbers, and then sell them out of state - as far away as North Dakota.

The bust dates back to December 2012, when several trailers were reported stolen in Springfield; security cameras captured some of them.

Someone spotted a missing trailer at South Valley a few days later, prompting a police investigation. Sales records showed transports to a company in North Dakota, who posted pictures of trailers of sale.

The pictures matched the descriptions of the stolen property.

Officers say details helped crack the case.

"People need to make sure they know serial numbers and the info of the trailers and keep them secure," Lt. Kevin Grizzell tells KSPR News. "Keep them locked up and chain them. The harder you make it to steal, the less likely it is to be stolen."

Detectives went back to the company's offices last month and took several hard drives and computers. Officers think files saved on those drives will reveal the whole extent of the ring.

Grizzell says he expects prosecutors to file charges against South Valley's owners later this month.

One owner already has a  long criminal record, including two convictions involving burglary and stealing.

Springfield police officers served a second search warrant last month on a company called South Valley Trailers.

Original article: http://www.kspr.com/news/kspr-springfield-cops-say-theyve-busted-national-crime-ring-20130401,0,344630.story

State shuts down Springfield car dealer during investigation into rolling back odometers

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo.-- A KY3 investigation leads to an investigation by Missouri's Attorney General's office.

A used car dealership in Springfield -- Excel Auto Group, LLC -- near Scenic and Walnut Lawn -- can no longer operate after being raided on Thursday by the Department of Revenue and the AG's office. At issue-- complaints about rolling back odometers.

Julie Schiffner started her search for a car online, and found what she thought was the perfect vehicle for the perfect price.

"We asked for a Carfax and he provided it and so we would never have thought to go spend the money then to double check and make sure the one he provided us was correct," Schiffner said.

So they bought it, a 2002 Toyota Sequoia.

They had it for two weeks when they got some bad news that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

A close friend just happened to run an independent Carfax check for them.

"He checked it to see if the timing belt had ever been changed and that's when we realized that the mileage was completely wrong," she said.

One hundred thousand miles wrong.

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In loan case, jury awards Independence woman more than $1 million

An Independence woman recently won a $1,198,512 court judgment, with jurors finding that a finance company had misled her into making car payments she wasn’t obligated legally to pay.

The case, her lawyers said, pointed to an abusive lending practice that cuts particularly deep during tough economic times.
Lawyer Bernard Brown, who represented the woman, said the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act protects consumers who are unable to obtain car titles when their dealers go out of business. The law views such sales as “fraudulent,” and purchasers are not required to keep making payments if they cannot obtain the titles, Brown said.

“Consumers don’t know that they don’t have to pay, and in fact are entitled to all their payments back and their credit cleaned up,” Brown said.
How many consumers get stuck with such cars after dealers go out of business is difficult to say, acknowledged Brown, whose law practice specializes in automotive issues. But Missouri Department of Revenue figures show a 9 percent decline in the number of car dealer licenses issued in Jackson County between 2006 and 2010.

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