You know, not every lawsuit involves complex issues of law - not every case is filled with earth-shattering allegations. Sometimes the law is mundane. However, just because a case involves some familiar allegations and easily understandable facts doesn't render the matter uninteresting. For example, take the federal lawsuit in the District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana against Beau Michael Guidry of Baton Rouge, LA., the owner of Affordable Imports in Denham Springs, LA.
According to federal prosecutors, Guidry purchased high-mileage motor vehicles online through eBay and from wholesale automobile auctions in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. At the time that Guidry resold the vehicles at his lot or on eBay, many of the vehicles were over ten-years old. That's an important milestone as many used car buyers know because Guidry was not required certify in writing the accuracy of the mileage.
You may have your heart set on that Ford or GM truck, your kid may need a set of wheels and you're thinking about a Honda or Nissan - there's this great deal at the local used car lot or the nearby AutoNation. On the other hand, you saw this great deal on eBay or your next door neighbor says he has a friend of a friend. Hey, you're a big boy or girl, you know the risks. As long as it's a fair deal.
Yeah, sure - these "as is" sales are the stuff of legend - with caveat emptor being the rule of the road and buyers well advised to have a mechanic check out the auto before handing over the purchase price. More than a few so-called cherries have proven to be held together with chewing gum or rubber bands, or were found floating in some swamp after a hurricane. The funny thing about the lore of used car sales is that a lot of wannabe hustlers sort of miss the part about how you can't engage in affirmative fraud when touting the virtues of your wares.
It seems that Guidry had this thing about jiggering the odometers of some of the items that he sold. In fact, according to the Feds, some of the vehicles that he sold had odometers that were rolled back as much as 147,000 miles. There's this peculiar problem with the old rollback: Each time you alter an odometer with intent to change the mileage on the odometer, you violate federal law. Surprise - it could be a felony.
Used car sales? Mileage rollbacks? These are the stuff of federal criminal prosecutions? Hey, you better believe it - and, for my money, I prefer seeing our tax dollars going into that protect folks who can least afford to be ripped off when they're in desperate need of a car to take them back and forth to work or to shuttle their kids to school. And let's not forget that fudging the mileage of a used car raises dangerous road safety issues - particularly when such mischief sets off a cascade of supporting documentation that is also filled with lies.
On May 3, 2012, Guidry pleaded guilty to three counts of odometer tampering.
The Department of Justice Office of Consumer Protection Litigation offers an online resource about Odometer Tampering and also this helpful consumer checklist
Ways to Help Avoid Being Victimized by Odometer Fraud
Have a mechanic you trust check out the car. This will cost money, but it can save much more.
Look for loose screws or scratch marks around the dashboard. This is pertinent primarily to mechanical odometers which can be manipulated with tools.
Also on mechanical odometers, check to make sure that the digits in the odometer are lined up straight-particularly the 10,000 digit.
Test drive the car and see if the speedometer sticks.
Check for service stickers inside the door or under the hood that may give the actual mileage. Odometer tamperers try to find these as well, but sometimes miss one.
Look in the owner's manual to see if maintenance was listed, or if pages that might have shown high mileage were removed.
Ask the dealer whether a computer warranty check has been run on the car.
Use a commercially available computer search program that checks for mileage alterations. Some car dealers will give you one of these for free if you ask for it. While this is an important step to take, it is not foolproof by any means because not all high mileages are recorded on paperwork that makes its way to these databases.
Ask to see the title documents and look to see if the mileage reading on the documents has been altered.
Look to see if the steering wheel was worn smooth. Look for other signs of excessive wear on the arm-rest, the floor mats, the pedals for the brakes and gas, and the area around the ignition. If these items were recently replaced, that could also indicate efforts to hide the car's true use and mileage.
Don't assume that mileage is accurate just because the vehicle has an electronic odometer.
On November 29, 2012, Guidry was sentenced to 20 months in prison and a term of one year of supervised release during which he cannot be involved in the sale of motor vehicles. Also, he was ordered to pay $72,805.51 in restitution to the victims of his crimes. NOTE: In light of the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, the concerns originally raised in this article in May 2012 are now even more on point.