by Sara Forhetz, KY3 News
5:03 PM CST, March 7, 2013
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A car dealer whose business was shut down by a civil lawsuit by the Attorney General's Office last year has now been criminally charged. Ashley Bolton was charged on Monday with two counts of unlawful merchandising practices. The Attorney General's Office says Bolton rolled back odometers on used cars before reselling them at a dealership in southwest Springfield.
The victims listed in the probable cause statement against Bolton are two people featured in a KY3 News report last summer who bought cars from Bolton's Excel Auto Group and then found out the cars used to have more miles on them. They are Zane Turner and Julie Schiffner. Turner filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office on July 3, 2012. Schiffner filed a complaint with that office on June 13, 2012.
Turner and his wife, Mariah, bought a 2001 Lexus on Oct. 28, 2011, from Excel, according to the probable cause statement against Bolton. The odometer showed about 99,000 miles on it. Turner found out from the Lexus dealership that serviced the car that it previously had higher odometer readings.
Turner said he took the car back to Excel, which agreed to exchange the Lexus for another vehicle.
An investigator got records a week ago from the Missouri Department of Revenue that showed the odometer had 182,000 miles on it when Excel and Bolton bought the Lexus in September 2011.
Schiffner and her husband, Clay, bought a 2002 Toyota Sequoia from Excel on May 28, 2012. Its odometer showed 119,000 miles on it, and the Schiffners said Bolton showed them an AutoCheck report that showed the Toyota had that number of miles on it, according to the probable cause statement.
Ten days after the sale, the Schiffners obtained a Carfax vehicle history report that showed the Toyota's odometer reading was reported as 218,141 miles on May 14, 2012; as 204,177 miles on June 7, 2011; and as 199,831 miles on March 5, 2011. The Schiffners then got a new AutoCheck Vehicle Report that showed the odometer reading as 218,141 miles on May 14, 2012.
Clay Schiffner returned the Toyota to Excel "and confronted Bolton about the mileage discrepancies," wrote investigator Brandon Ruediger of the Consumer Protection Division of the Missouri Attorney General's Office.
Bolton agreed to buy back the Toyota from the Schiffners for the full purchase price plus $300 for expenses that the couple had incurred after buying the car. Shortly afterwards, the Schiffners saw the same vehicle listed for sale by Excel on Craigslist with only 119,600 miles on it.
The investigator finally got Missouri Department of Revenue records a week ago that showed the Toyota was listed with 218,141 miles when Bolton and Excel bought it on May 16, 2012.
A spokeswoman for the Missouri Attorney General's Office wouldn't say why it took Ruediger so long to obtain Missouri Department of Revenue records to back up the private records obtained by the Turners and the Schiffners that showed the odometers were rolled back. She also wouldn't say why more charges weren't filed against Bolton. When KY3 reported on Bolton and Excel last summer, many people came forward with records showing they bought vehicles with rolled-back odometers from the dealership.
After KY3's reports, the Attorney General's Office filed a civil suit against Excel Auto Group on June 14, 2012, and obtained a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction that are supposed to keep Bolton and Excel from selling cars. That case is still pending as the state tries to obtain a permanent injunction, restitution for wronged customers, and civil penalties. Nothing has been entered on the court docket on that case since last Dec. 7.
In the meantime, at least eight customers sued Bolton and/or Excel in small claims court. Online court records show five of those people obtained consent judgments against Bolton in amounts of $2,700, $2,420, $3,370, $4,070 and $4,613. Whether Bolton paid those judgments is not noted in the court files. Two other cases are pending and the plaintiff in the eighth case withdrew her lawsuit.
Also, last fall, the Missouri Department of Revenue filed four relatively minor charges against Bolton. It charged him with two misdemeanors of failing to obtain a car dealer's license from the state and two infractions of failing to obtain a safety inspection of a wrecked car prior to it being sold. Those cases are pending; the Department of Revenue says the violations occurred before the Attorney General's Office shut down Excel.
Excel Auto Group had two addresses near Scenic Avenue at Inman Road (Walnut Lawn Street/Farm Road 164): 3392 Bowgen Parkway and 3389 S. Scenic Ave. Both locations closed after KY3's reports and the Attorney General's lawsuit. A reporter was not able to reach Bolton for a comment on Tuesday. Last summer, Bolton refused to talk to a reporter about the claims that he put lower mileages on odometers of cars that he bought and resold.
Greene County Associate Circuit Judge Mark Powell issued an arrest warrant for Bolton on Wednesday after the charges were filed on Monday. The warrant was served on Thursday, and Bolton posted a $5,000 bond, which includes an order to "not be involved in the sale and/or purchase and/or transfer of automobiles; not to be on the premises of any automobile sale lot or automobile sale facility." Powell scheduled a bond hearing for March 13.
Bolton could face a prison sentence up to four years for each count if he is convicted.
You can see KY3's previous reports in the two stories at left.
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