FOX 11 Investigates: New legislation to address consignment car sales
KAUKAUNA (WLUK) - Imagine getting help selling your car from a licensed dealer. But you don't get paid, and now someone else is driving around in your vehicle. That’s what more than 20 car owners in Northeast Wisconsin last year claim happened to them.
A year and a half ago, the complaints were already piling up.
"All I want is my money or my car either one,” said Jennifer Wright of Green Bay, who sold her car on consignment.
Individuals signed contracts with the car dealer Standard Pre-Owned, in Suamico and Kaukauna, to sell their cars on consignment.
"I had a contract. A promissory note,” explained Trevor Bosar, another who sold his car on consignment through Standard Pre-Owned.
Investors in the company were also left without answers.
"Hopefully the police can figure this out shortly," said part-owner Brent Strelka last year.
But after nearly a year and a half, investigators still haven't figured it out.
Thirty-seven complaints were filed by individuals with the state's Department of Transportation against Standard Pre-Owned. Twenty-three claim they were not paid for their cars. The FBI took over the case a year ago, but no charges were ever filed.
The case though remains open according to the Brown County Sheriff's Office, which began the investigation but is no longer assisting.
The state's Department of Transportation declined to talk about the case, citing the ongoing investigation. But in a letter to one consignor the DOT secretary acknowledged "Standard Preowned potentially violated the law" by selling cars without their titles and not paying off consignors.
"I'm very frustrated with how the DOT is handling this whole situation regarding my vehicle and other vehicles," said Bosar.
Bosar is one of the victims who filed a claim with the state. DOT documents show his car was sold by Standard Pre-Owned in Kaukauna, but Bosar says the dealer paid him nothing.
Full disclosure, Bosar is an employee of FOX11.
As it turns out Bosar's car was one of the last to be sold before Brown County sheriff's deputies raided the dealerships. Two weeks after the raid the dealer licenses were voluntarily surrendered in May of 2016.
The many complaints FOX 11 Investigates obtained from the DOT and court records accuse Standard Pre-Owned of not paying consignors and failing to follow state statutes when transferring vehicle titles.
When a car is sold in Wisconsin, the initial paperwork is processed with the state online. The original title is then required to be mailed into the DMV in a timely manner.
But FOX11 Investigates uncovered DOT documents highlighting complaints dating back to 2011 in which Standard Pre-Owned did not turn in titles on time or at all.
The DOT's own documents show it warned Standard Pre-Owned for years about its titling procedures.
Several victims, FOX11 Investigates has spoken to both on and off camera, indicated the DOT is partially to blame for not taking action sooner.
Bosar was never paid for his '93 Mazda. As part of the consignor agreement he retained the car's title prior to any sale. After the car was sold the title was never collected or turned in to the DMV. Bosar is frustrated with the DOT’s oversight.
"They were not following up any complaints,” said Bosar. “If they had I wouldn't have been in this situation nor would all these other victims."
“The actual principal balance to the victims from what I understand is $280,000,” said John Solberg, who worked for Standard Pre-Owned.
Solberg maintains he never owned the dealership or controlled its operation. Although, FOX11 Investigates obtained signed purchase agreements, which indicate a transfer of ownership to and from Solberg. But Solberg says those agreements were never officially finalized.
“The facts are the owners and license holders portrayed me as the face of the company,” said Solberg.
Brent Strelka and Bryan Crain say they purchased the Kaukauna operation in early May from Solberg, unaware of the existing problems. Their lawyer Gregg Curry issued a statement to FOX 11 saying, "The vehicles of the 23 consignors who did not get paid happened when the business was completely and solely within the control of John Solberg.”
“I've conveyed I didn't do this, however, I'm going to do whatever I can to help people that are involved, that were victims,” said Solberg.
Regardless of ownership, Bosar has been fighting back about what he views as flaws in the system. He wrote letters to legislators, the DOT and even Governor Walker explaining the system needs to change.
DOT Secretary Dave Ross, new on the job in January, agreed to a meeting with Bosar and Assembly Speaker Jim Steineke in June. The DOT declined our request for an interview citing the ongoing FBI investigation.
Bosar provided Ross with a detailed timeline of the complaints and actions taken against Standard Pre-Owned.
"His concern was, 'why was this titling stuff happening, why is the DMV processing these titles without any paperwork or follow-up?'" said Bosar about his meeting with Ross.
FOX 11 Investigates met with Steineke about changing the laws concerning the transfer of vehicle titles, to ask him if that is something he was willing to take up.
"Oh, absolutely and that's one of the things I think that came out of that meeting,” said Steineke. “It was Secretary Ross and I along with Senator Cowles and Hansen's office, made Trevor the promise that we would work together to try to close those loopholes to try and make sure this didn't happen to anyone else again."
After more than a year of delays, we wanted to know how soon Steineke envisioned a change in state law?
“I'd be looking for something like this to be pushed through the Assembly this fall yet,” said Steineke.
While Steineke works on a proposal, State Sen. Dave Hansen, (D) Green Bay, has already signed on to ta bill being floated around the capitol. That bill would change the way the DOT handles the transfer of titles in consignment sales.
“Instead of using electronic where they kind of ripped people off they have to have it on paper document, and it has to be signed off by the owner. And that can’t happen unless they get their money first,” said Hansen
Bosar did recover a majority of his losses through his insurance company. But he says this is about more than just the money.
"Why are you pursuing this?" FOX11 Investigates asked Bosar.
"Something's got to change, Wisconsinites deserve better. What happened and how the DOT ran things was wrong. I was a victim, others were victims. I believe there's a solution in sight and we have to get everybody on board to fix these loopholes so this doesn't happen again,” said Bosar.
Ultimately any changes in the way the state processes titles will have to come from the legislature, not the DOT. As the Assembly Majority Leader, Steineke is confident it will have bi-partisan support to make certain there aren't more victims like Bosar in the future.
Standard Pre-Owned is out of business and the property it leased is up for sale. No criminal charges have been filed in this case.
Solberg, Crain and Strelka are among several defendants named in a civil suit filed in Outagamie County Court by multiple people who claim they did not get paid for their cars. All three have denied any wrongdoing.