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N4T Investigators: Dealer Deception

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates more than 450,000 cars are sold each year with fake odometer readings, costing buyers more than $1 billion in value.

How do you know if you’ve been scammed?  

The News 4 Tucson Investigators found 7,000 vehicles around our city could have fake odometer readings, according to CarFax data. So, we took our findings to Arizona's Attorney General and asked, what’s being done to stop rollback fraud?  

“We find out about it and then we aggressively go after that individual,” Mark Brnovich, Arizona attorney general said. 

The Attorney General's Office got a consent judgment against a Mesa car dealership owner, claiming pacific auto sales businessman Santiago Ramirez Montelon allegedly tampered with odometers he sold to at least 23 buyers.  

“I was thinking to myself, mid-90s?” Darren Potrament, a car buyer said. "130,000 miles for 3K? That’s a pretty good deal."

Darren’s one of them. 

“The motor blew out," Potrament said. "I started putting two and two together... they rolled the miles back.”  

Court documents showed without admitting wrongdoing, Ramirez entered into a consent judgment with the state. It said he altered odometers and advertised vehicles with false mileage. According to the consent judgment, he said it was not intentional.  

The N4T Investigators went to Mesa to get his side of the story but the shop was gone. We found another dealership at the same address but we’re told it has no connection to pacific auto sales. 

An employee gave us a number linked to Ramirez. We called him but he didn't pick up or call back. So, we called his lawyer but there was no answer. 

The AG's Office said Ramirez is barred from owning used car dealerships, selling and financing. The judgment requires $30,000 of restitution for affected buyers. He also faces $80,000 in civil penalties. 

Meanwhile, some odometer rollback victims may never get their money back. 

“As a young married couple, we were saving up money for a long time to be able to get a new car," Ashley Stanton, a car buyer said. 

Ashley Staton lives in Tucson. She and her dad went to Phoenix to buy a car posted on Craigslist. 

“We test drove the car. It seemed like it was a good deal,” Stanton said. 

 She said after she brought it home. 

“What I wish I would have saw is on the odometer spot on the title," Stanton said. "It said 60,000 miles and then a little letter 'C' ... if you look down at the fine print at the bottom of the title it says this may or may not be the actual mileage.” 

Realizing neither checked the car facts, she said they found it had 180,000 more miles than advertised.  

“This is definitely a very real issue in the Tucson area,” Emilie Voss, CarFax Public Relations Director said. 

Stanton said she filed a complaint with the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division in 2019 but the state never responded.

So, we asked ADOT, what's taking so long? 

Turns out, it had no record of getting the inital complaint and isn't sure why but a spokesperson said, "Because KVOA brought it to our attention, our Office of Inspector General has started an investigation." 

Josh Ingle, owner of Atlanta Speedometer said odometer correctors' “sole purpose is to change an odometer reading."

 There is a legitimate use. 

 “Of course, this can be purchased for fraud as well,” Ingle said. 

 We found some for less than $30.  

“It literally takes a con man a matter of seconds to change the mileage on a vehicle,” Voss said. "That can impact the value by thousands of dollars." 

“Without a doubt, there are people out there trying to rip you off,” Brnovich said. 

 How can you avoid them?  

 “Checking the CarFaxs, you should take a car to the mechanic,” Brnovich said. 

“Check all the fine print on the title,” Stanton said. 

 And to scammers, the attorney general said “we will find you and we will go after you to the full extent of the law.” 

If you've been victimized, reach out to the Arizona Department of Highway Safety and file a complaint with Arizona's Attorney General’s Office.   

Have an issue you’d like for us to investigate? Email investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.   

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Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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