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6 Investigates: Paper license plates cause new car problems

Posted: 5:52 PM, Aug 13, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-14 09:50:15-04

CORPUS CHRISTI – Dozens of people have complained that they bought cars from a local dealership and later found out they didn’t actually own the vehicle – someone else did.

KRIS 6 Investigates has confirmed the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles is looking into title complaints against that dealership.

In May, more than 40 people complained Corpus Christi Subaru failed to apply for a title after they purchased a vehicle.

State law says a dealership has 30 calendar days to file the application or 45 calendar days if the car is financed through the dealership.

For eight months, Jennifer White said she drove around on paper license plates because the dealership failed to submit that paperwork. She ended up refusing to pay her July car payment until it was resolved. Instead, the dealership re-possessed her car for non-payment. By that time, White said she had paid about $5,000 or half of the sales price for a used Mitsubishi SUV.

Vehicle identification records revealed White never owned the car. Instead, the car was titled and registered to a couple that lives in Channelview, Texas – about 230 miles from Corpus Christi, according to VIN records from June 29.

“They fraudulently sold me a car that belonged to somebody else,” White said, upon hearing that information.

That’s not true, said Corpus Christi Subaru owner Ronald Lillard.

“We follow all of the guidelines and procedures,” Lillard said. “We will not sell a vehicle without ownership of the vehicle.”

The delay for White’s title paperwork was because the dealership sold White a trade-in and had trouble securing the title, but eventually did, Lillard said. He would not provide a timeline.

“I don’t remember the exact date,” he said. “We sell 200 something cars a month, so I just researched this because you brought it up to me.”

But 6 Investigates found White’s title troubles are not isolated.

Like her, David Triplett was in a tough financial position when the dealership agreed to finance his used car purchase.

“These are people that I was totally 100 percent with and honest with, and I trusted them, and they screwed me,” Triplett said.

Vehicle identification records show Triplett never owned his car. Instead, it was titled and registered to a couple in Refugio.

That’s because the car the dealership sold Triplett was bought at auction, Lillard said.

And in a situation like that, it can take months to transfer the title, he added.

Many of the complaints that ended up with the DMV began in Nueces. People complained to Nueces County Tax Assessor/Collector Kevin Kieschnick about being forced to drive for months on paper plates after purchasing a vehicle. Kieschnick said he contacted the DMV. And in May, he sent a strongly-worded letter asking the DMV to revoke the dealership license because of “the extensive nature of violations found.”

The DMV renewed Corpus Christi Subaru’s license at the end of July. It’s good for another two years, which Lillard said backs up his statements that he did nothing wrong.

But former employee Benjamin Delavigne said the problems he experienced and later heard about at the dealership prompted him to file a complaint with the Texas Office of the Attorney General. He worried customers were being ripped off, and described a sale that he helped with while he was there.

“The check engine light was on in the car. We had made it a condition of the sale to, you know, fix it,” Delvalina said.

He said after he left, another employee told the transmission on that vehicle went out. “And she’s stuck in that car,” he said.

Delvalina only worked there a month, and quit after the company shorted his paycheck, he said.

During a more than hour-long interview with Lillard, he continued to deny any wrongdoing. Instead, he re-directed the conversation to talk about his dealership specials.

“We have a really good service department, as well,” he said. “And um, we’re actually doing a special right now for the next six months: If you buy the part, we’ll pay for the labor.”

Meanwhile, Triplett whose car was re-possessed in June said losing that car turned his life upside down.

“I lost my job, I lost my place and I had to move me and my family into a shelter,” he said. “I didn’t deserve this.”

KRIS 6 Investigates also confirmed the Texas DMV has an active investigation into title complaints at Alpha Romeo Fiat of Corpus Christi. Lillard owns that dealership, too.

And the Texas State Comptroller’s Office confirmed an investigation into both dealerships. Kieschnick said the comptroller’s investigation is because he found evidence that the dealership is overcharging sales tax and pocketing the extra money. He’s also warned the dealership in the past about forging government documents.

Lillard said he is aware of both investigations, and once finished they will show he has done nothing wrong.

To find out how you can file a complaint with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, visit their website here .