A Columbia man was arrested yesterday, charged with the theft of 130 cars and three boats and with violating the state's prohibition against subleasing motor vehicles, the attorney general's office announced.
Peter M. Stiltz, 49, was named recently in a sealed indictment by a grand jury in Baltimore County, where he owned Automotive Brokers and Consultants, later named A & A Auto Rental and Leasing.
After closing the business, he moved to Howard County and did business as Columbia Leasing Advantage on Guilford Road, said Assistant Attorney General Michael A. Zwaig. Mr. Stiltz has no current auto-leasing business in Maryland.
The investigation of his and at least three other companies began in July 1990, when a state law took effect that requires a lender's approval before anyone who financed a new car through the lender can turn the vehicle over to another person to assume the payments.
Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said the number of victims could reach 1,000. According to prosecutors, a new car buyer who was unable to make payments would advertise the car for sale -- and would be contacted by an agency offering to relieve him of the payments by finding someone to sublease the car.
The original buyer usually paid no fee, but lost the car and whatever money he had paid on it.
Once it had a vehicle, the subleasing company would place its own advertisement to lease the car. The ads -- along the lines of "Bad credit? No credit? Need a car? Call us!!" -- tended to draw poor credit risks and people who had illegal cash to dispose of, the prosecutors noted.
These people paid finder's fees of $800 to $2,500. They were supposed to make monthly car payments to the subleasing agency, which was supposed to give the money to the lender, Mr. Zwaig said.
But if they didn't make the payments, or if the subleasing agency kept the payments instead of passing them on to the lender, the original buyer would receive a late payment notice from the lender. And the original buyer would realize he didn't even know where the car was.
Where to call
People who believe they are victims of the thefts may call the attorney general's office at 576-6391.