FOX11 Investigates lack of action against used car dealership
The Standard PreOwned used car lots in Suamico and Kaukauna are vacant now. But at one time they were thriving, selling cars on consignment for private owners.
But even as they rang us sales, complaints were piling up. Standard PreOwned is being investigated now for criminal wrongdoing by the Brown County Sheriff's Office. Brown County is being assisted in its investigation by Kaukauna Police, the state's division of motor vehicles and the FBI. It's believed more than 100 vehicle owners are out their money or their car.
"I had a contract. A promissory note, all sorts of paperwork, they never followed through," said Trevor Bosar of Oneida who was sought out by Standard PreOwned in March to list his car after seeing an ad he posted on AutoTrader.
"The consignment agreement looked very thorough, I had everybody's signature. I thought this was a well greased operation," said Bosar.
Bosar came to our attention because he works at FOX11. But court documents accompanying a search warrant for the Suamico dealership filed by the Brown County Sheriff's Office detail numerous other sellers with complaints against Standard PreOwned and its operator John Solberg. He's the man the sheriff's department identifies as its main person of interest in the investigation. Repeated emails and phone calls to Solberg and Standard PreOwned for comment were not returned. A check of both used car lots turned up a former employee who could only confirm what government records showthat Standard PreOwned is now out of business.
Most of the sellers in the documented complaints report their cars were sold by Standard PreOwned, but they were never paid.
"That's all I want is my money or my car either one," said Jennifer Wright of Green Bay. She agreed to let Standard PreOwned sell her car on consignment back in November of last year. And immediately she says there was a problem.
"Every time I called nobody knew nothing about my car. They knew nothing," said Wright.
FOX 11 Investigates obtained documents from the state's Division of Hearings and Appeals through an open records request.
The documents show the dealer license for Standard PreOwned operated under the name Suamico Investment Group, LLC which was issued the dealer license in July of 2010. The car lot then went by the name Backwoods Bargains.
Those documents show the DOT investigated complaints and dealer license violations dating back to 2011. Then in June of 2014 the DOT indicated it had "concerns regarding Suamico Investment Group's activities in the motor vehicle industry" prompting the DOT to issue a conditional license stipulating conditions that must be followed to sell motor vehicles in Wisconsin.
FOX 11 Investigates filed an Open Records Request in November of 2014 for complaints against the used car dealership. The DOT supplied a stack of complaints filed by customers and consignment sellers from 2012 through 2014. A DOT investigator following up on the complaints noted several motor vehicle license violationsincluding selling cars without their titles.
Then in March of this year, the Division of Motor Vehicles of the DOT filed it's own complaint with the State's Division of Hearings and Appeals to revoke the Suamico Investment Group's motor vehicle license. In the complaint obtained by FOX 11 Investigates, it spells out allegations of not paying owners of consigned vehicles, failing to process titles as required, and failing to possess titles of the cars being sold.
If immediate action were taken back in March, Trevor Bosar and others with cars on the Standard PreOwned lots likely would have gotten their cars back. But instead a revocation hearing was set for four months later--on July 20th. The hearing would later be canceled after Standard PreOwned closed.
Bosar's car was sold back in May. That was two weeks before the criminal investigation began, at which time the dealer licenses were voluntarily surrendered,
"I'm very frustrated he went on for as long as he did. It sounded like they had enough proof to shut him down and if they would have acted I'd still have my car," said Bosar.
Selling a car in Wisconsin requires the original title to be signed over to the person buying the car. Neither Wright nor Bosar signed their car's title. In fact, they both still have the original title in their possession.
A Wisconsin auto dealers license requires the dealer to have that title when a sale is made. And the signed title must be turned into the Department of Motor Vehicles after the paperwork is first processed online.
According to documents obtained by FOX11 Investigates from the DOT and Brown County court, Standard PreOwned wasn't always doing that. Those records show violations dating back several years.
"Are you surprised it was able to go on for so long?" FOX11 Investigates asked Wright.
" I'm surprised it's gotten this far. It's been going on since 2011. I'm surprised it went this far," said Wright.
In a statement from the Department of Transportation, FOX 11 Investigates was told… "The Department performs spot-checks and random audits of paperwork received, but does not review every one of the approximately 970,808 title transactions processed by our 5,250 third party partners."
FOX11 Investigates wanted to know if changes will be made to the system in light of the activities involving Standard PreOwned.
The DOT responded… "The problem is not with the system, rather it is with the abuse of the system. Non-compliance with the statues are violations of law, and criminal acts are investigated and pursued by law enforcement officials."
DOT officials tell FOX 11 Investigates, those customers who purchased vehicles in good faith are entitled to maintain ownership. A decision we're told DOT officials were debating just two weeks ago.
In court documents, a former worker alleges Solberg is behind in consignment payments as much as $300,000. Those who ended up with nothing believe something needs to change.
"I feel the laws in the state of Wisconsin need to change so activity like this doesn't happen again," said Bosar.
"Do you think the DMV is actually looking at the paperwork when it comes in when they're supposed to mail this in?" FOX11 Investigates asked Wright.
"I honestly don't. As long as they get the money in their hands that's all they worry about. It's all about money," Wright said. Adding, "Something needs to change."
Law enforcement officials say this investigation is very labor intensive and will take time to complete.
No charges will be filed until the investigation is complete.
Those who's cars were sold without compensation do have the right to appeal with the Division of Hearings and Appeals.