Undercover sting catches illegal car dealer

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Danielle Leigh reports on the illegal car dealer.

Neighbors complain one stretch of the Bronx has become a haven for illegal car dealers who are taking up all of the area's public parking to sell unregistered vehicles on the street.

7 On Your Side Investigates went undercover on Tremont Avenue after receiving complaints about the vehicles, which witnesses described as unregistered and in some cases apparently inoperable.

"Every day, I go through here it's the same thing," said Tony Rodriguez, who used to inspect cars for a living before retiring.

Rodriguez now worries these cars pose a nuisance and a risk to public safety.

"Start giving them tickets and start towing them away because these cars don't belong on the street," Rodriguez said.

It's illegal for anyone to park an unregistered car on the street, to leave cars blocking sidewalks or to leave them double parked.

It's also illegal to list more than five cars for sale in a year without a dealer's license in New York state, but 7 On Your Side Investigates found auto body shops and illegal car dealers blatantly disregarding all of those laws.

At White Plains Road and Tremont Avenue, 7 On Your Investigates found six cars all listed for sale with the same number.

The phone number led 7 On Your Investigates to a man named Jose, who admitted he didn't have a license but was using someone else's to gain access to vehicle auctions around the region and selling the cars he acquires for cash.

"Whatever I can make quick," Jose said.

Jose indicated to 7 On Your Side Investigates that the unregistered cars he had listed for sale were in good condition.

However, a Carfax reported listed a 2003 Toyota Matrix he was trying to sell as a "total loss."

"Illegal dealers, or curbstoners, typically sell cars that reputable dealers won't touch. Problems range from major damage to odometer issues and even structural concerns," said Carfax spokesperson Chris Basso, who called the current conditions in the Bronx a concern. "Not only are many of the cars curbstoners sell potentially dangerous, but they also are worth considerably less than unsuspecting buyers pay for them, losing thousands."

When pressed, Jose told 7 On Your Side Investigates he did not have the title for some of the cars but promised we could get it.

Consumers who have bought cars under such conditions have sometimes found the car they purchased could not actually be registered, causing them to lose thousands of dollars and wind up stuck with an inoperable car.

When 7 On Your Side Investigates asked Jose about his behavior, he explained he didn't think he was doing anything wrong.

"You know how many thousands of people are doing that on the side of the street?" Jose asked.

Part of the problem as a spokesperson with New York state DMV made clear, the department doesn't have much teeth and as she explained, the most it could do was issue an administrative sanction with a $25 fine.

The illegal sale of vehicles is a matter that's largely left up to law enforcement, in this case the New York Police Department, to enforce. But Rodriguez complains, his reports about the illegal activity over several months have gone unanswered and unchecked.

"I want the city to clean this up," Rodriguez said.

7 On Your Side Investigates notified police about the troubles along Tremont Avenue.

A spokesperson said the commanding officers of the impacted precincts were aware of the problem and would be working to "correct the condition."

Basso suggested consumers looking to buy a car always obtain a vehicle history report and obtain a vehicle inspection from a mechanic before agreeing to purchase a vehicle.

He also added that buyers should make sure the seller has the title and that the title is signed by the person selling the car.

If possible, Basso suggested buying from a licensed dealer.


Jim Hoffer, Danielle Leigh and the 7 On Your Side Investigates team at Eyewitness News want to hear from you! Call our confidential tip line 1-877-TIP-NEWS (847-6397) or fill out the form BELOW.

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Jim Hoffer:
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Twitter: @NYCinvestigates

Danielle Leigh
Email your questions, issues, or story ideas to 7OnYourSideDanielle@abc.com
Facebook: DanielleLeighJournalist
Twitter: @DanielleNLeigh

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