Suit alleges fraud by Liberty Auto MVA cited car dealer for turning back odometer on used van, other violations

September 09, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Expecting their first child, Dale and Cherie Lucas were in hTC search of a large, practical car last year when they found a deal they couldn't pass up -- a 1990 Chevrolet Astro minivan, with 41,021 miles, for under $11,000.

The Taneytown couple traded in their 7-year-old Ford Bronco, took out an auto loan from a bank and drove away from Liberty Auto and Truck Sales and Service in Sykesville in their newly purchased van.

VJ Sure, it didn't have a title, permanent registration certificate or li

cense plates, but the folks at Liberty Auto and Truck Sales said they'd take care of those details.

Three months and two temporary license plates later, those details -- and many others -- weren't taken care of, says a seven-count fraud and breach of contract suit filed this week in Carroll Circuit Court.

Liberty Auto and Truck Sales owner David William Albers was never able to obtain a clear title on the Astro, since the company he purchased the minivan from was an unlicensed dealer, the suit and Motor Vehicle Administration records say.

"On . . . Dec. 3, 1992, the second set of temporary tags expired," the suit says. Mr. Albers "thereafter failed to return any of the [Lucases'] phone calls or correspondence, disconnected the phone of Liberty Auto and Truck, left no forwarding address or phone number, nor any information as to the status of the vehicle title and registration."

But that was just the beginning of the Lucases' troubles. Mr. Albers, the suit says, had rolled back the odometer. According to the suit and the MVA, the minivan actually had more than 106,000 miles on it when the Lucases bought it.

And because they were never able to obtain a title in their name, the Lucases couldn't drive it. They returned the minivan to Liberty Auto and Truck Sales, but were able to recoup only a portion of their purchase price, the Lucases' lawyer said yesterday.

"These are fairly egregious exam ples of fraud," said Damian L. Halstad, the Westminster attorney representing the Lucases and Cherie Lucas' mother, Darlene T. Smith of Finksburg. The Lucases are now borrowing one of Ms. Smith's cars.

After MVA investigations in March and April, Mr. Albers and his company were cited for altering the odometer, selling a vehicle with an altered odometer, failing to provide title and registration, issuing more than one temporary registration for the car and "conducting vehicle sales business with or through a person required to be licensed while knowing that said person was not licensed," said the suit and MVA records obtained by Mr. Halstad.

The suit seeks in excess of $100,000 in punitive and compensatory damages.

The road taking the Astro minivan to the Lucases is a long and winding one, say MVA records obtained by Mr. Halstad.

On May 28, 1992, Associates Leasing of Madison, Wis., sold the van to the Harrisburg Auto Auction in Pennsylvania. Later that day, it was sold to Gorman Auto Emporium of Laurel, the records say. Gorman Auto Emporium, not a licensed auto dealer in Maryland, was actually a name created by Virginia Evans and James Gorman, the lawsuit said. Mr.Gorman and Ms. Evans are also defendants in the Lucases' lawsuit.

How and when the van got from Gorman Auto Emporium to Liberty is unclear.

A man who answered a phone listed under Ms. Evans' home in Laurel said he knew nothing of a James Gorman, a Gorman Auto Emporium or Ms. Evans' involvement in such a company.

"We have no idea who this auto emporium is," said the man, who identified himself as Ms. Evans' husband, Duane Evans. "We've been getting their junk mail here for some time."

He said he and his wife -- who is out of town, he said -- run Evans Environmental, a lawn care service. They have been in business for four years, Mr. Evans said.

The MVA has never heard of Gorman Auto Emporium, which apparently has bought and sold at least 10 other cars in Maryland. The dealer number provided by Gorman Auto Emporium when the Astro was purchased has not been assigned by the agency to any dealer, the suit says.

Jim Lang, an MVA spokesman, was not able to determine yesterday what his agency has done as a result of the investigations into Liberty Auto and Truck and Gorman Auto Emporium. In cases involving fraud, he said, the auto dealer likely would be cited and could be closed.

Messages left on Mr. Albers' home answering machine were unreturned, and there is no number listed for Liberty Auto and Truck Sales and Service in Sykesville.

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