CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A used car dealer who recently ran for a Corpus Christi city council seat is under investigation tonight.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles will be investigating 45 complaints being filed against Cars-4-Credit.
It's usually very simple.
When you buy a car, the dealership is required to charge you sales tax and other fees and then pay them to the local tax assessor on your behalf.
Then, you get your permanent license plates within 30 days and it's a done deal.
Or at least, that's how it's supposed to work.
But, if the car dealer collects your money for taxes and fees - and doesn't pay them - you've got a big problem!
Nathan Murphey lives in Alice.
Last spring, he needed a car for his wife.
In March, Nathan came to Corpus Christi and bought this Jeep Grand Cherokee at a used car dealership called Cars-4-Credit.
Nathan paid about $2,800 for the vehicle, and more than $300 dollars for tax, title and fees. All of it was paid in cash.
It should have been a done deal. But it wasn’t, even if it should have been.
Once Cars-4-Credit collected Nathan's tax and title fees - the dealership was supposed to pay them on his behalf.
Nathan expected to receive permanent tags and his car title within 30 days, but when that didn't happen, he says he reached out to the owner of the dealership.
"I tried to contact him,” Nathan said. “He would give me multiple numbers. They didn't lead to anything. They were dead. Nobody would answer.
“So, I kept going back to the dealership and nobody would ever be there."
Eric Cantu, a one-time candidate for Corpus Christi city council is - or was - owner of Cars-4-Credit.
This used to be his dealership, but he's out of business now and the building is leased to another tenant.
Nevertheless, Cantu is accused by Nathan Murphey and other customers of collecting taxes and fees and not using that money to pay the DMV.
“And it’s fraud, and it’s theft as far as I’m concerned,” said Kevin Kieschnick, Nueces County tax assessor.
That's how Kieschnick describes what Cantu did to his customers.
Kieschnick is now in the process of filing 45 complaints against Cantu and Cars-4-Credit.
Those complaints will be investigated by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Naturally, 6 Investigates wanted to hear Eric Cantu's side of the story - so last week, we texted the former used car dealer.
He told us he was going out of town, but would talk when he got back. We asked when that would be, he told us Friday morning. But the day before, Cantu called and told us he was going to stay in San Antonio and wasn't coming back to Corpus Christi until this week.
Then yesterday, he called to say he was in Laredo and wouldn't be available for an interview.
The Nueces County Tax Assessor says Cantu isn't the only used car dealer keeping customers' tax and title money. Kieschnick says it's a rampant and growing problem that needs to be addressed in Austin.
“I really think if they had a Special Investigative Unit within the DPS the money recovered would definitely offset what's going on because we've had literally thousands of these in Nueces County the last couple of years and that's just Nueces County,” he said.
Despite action being taken by state and local officials - it's actually gotten worse for Nathan.
Take a look at this letter he received from an attorney representing finance company Bluebonnet Financial.
"Asking me to pay the outstanding debt that's due to them under my name,” Nathan said.
6 Investigates: “But you paid cash?”
Nathan: “But I paid cash.”
6 Investigates: “So that doesn’t make any sense?”
Nathan: “No, no it doesn’t.”
When asked about what Bluebonnet Financial is, Kieschnick had a quick response.
“Is owned by Eric Cantu and he has filed liens on these vehicles after he has sold the vehicles,” Kieschnick said.
And that, Kieschnick alleges, is fraud.
Again, an investigation is underway, but that doesn't do much for Cantu's alleged victims.
Murphey has already used the three temporary tags allowed in Texas on his Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Without paperwork to prove it's his Jeep,
This former Cars for Credit customer now has a useless vehicle, with no license plates, just sitting in his driveway.
"I can't use it,” he said. “I don't have any proof that I own it. I can't do much with it."
And unfortunately, there's not a whole lot you can do if this happens to you.
The Texas DMV can pull a car seller's license and file a civil complaint, but DMV has no authority to file criminal charges.
If you purchase a car or truck and 60 days go by and you're still in dealer plates, contact the tax assessors’ office.
The only way officials find out about car scams is when folks let them know they've been ripped off.
EDITORS NOTE: In the video that ran with this story, Eric Cantu appears with a local attorney. That attorney does not and has not ever represented Cantu in any legal matters.