Monday, March 24, 2014

Car Dealer Sentenced and Ordered to Pay Restitution for Bank Fraud

In the market for a used car?  Do your research first so you know who you are dealing with!
In July 2013, Daniel Young, the owner and operator of Auto Plaza in Billings, Montana, was sentenced by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Sam Haddon to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay $490,153 in restitution to First Interstate Bank for bank fraud.

Mr. Young plead guilty to bank fraud in February of last year, reportedly admitting that he defrauded First Interstate Bank in a scheme in which he failed to repay liens on the vehicles that he sold.

According to news reports, Mr. Young owned and operated Auto Plaza Inc. at 1617 First Avenue N., Billings, Montana.  Auto Plaza, Inc. reportedly sold used motor vehicles, along with new and used recreational vehicles, boats, ATVs, and motorcycles with the help of loans from First Interstate Bank and Dealer Services Corp.  When the dealership sold a vehicle or boat, proceeds were supposed to be used to pay off the loan from the bank that had provided the financing for the dealership's inventory.  The bank would then pay off any liens and allow clear title to be passed to the consumer buyer.  However, according to news reports, Mr. Young instead used the sales proceeds to pay other bills and vendors, make payroll, and pay off liens on unrelated sales. 

The Defense Attorney, Brian Kohn, asked for sentencing of 1 year and 1 day, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Fehr recommended a 13 month sentence.  Judge Haddon decided to hand down the maximum sentence to the car dealer of 18 months.

So, where do you start your research?  Your first step should be to consult online reviews of local car dealerships before purchasing a car.  One way to do this is to Google the dealership and see if there are any Google+ reviews.  But, where you see negative reviews, be weary of similarly worded positive reviews that crop up around the same time-- there is nothing stopping a car dealership from posting "bogus" positive reviews in response to negative ones.

Another easy way to research a local car dealer is to go online to the Common Pleas Court for the County in which the dealer is located.  Not all, but many, have online dockets and allow you to search for cases by party name.  While there are always two sides to every story, lawsuits against a car dealership can be a serious red flag. 

You may also want to turn to your friends on Facebook.  Find out if any of them have purchased a vehicle at a particular dealership and what their experience was like.  These Facebook "reviews" can be even more reliable, when you know the person that they are coming from.

Finally, simply type the name of the dealership into Google or Bing and see what else comes up.  However, keep in mind that a large car dealer is more likely to have an online reputation management company "cleaning up" their online reputation than a small car lot.  So, certainly keep that into perspective.

Good luck, and happy car shopping!

Beth Wells
Helping Consumers Get Rid of Lemons, 10 Years Running


1 comment:

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