Lawyers Say Jones Unaware of Auto Sales Problems
Attorneys for Steve Jones, the auto dealer accused by the Division of Motor Vehicles of improper sales, say their client has been "primarily a figurehead" for the dealership for the past several years and that he had no active role due to ongoing medical issues.
"As many of you who know Steve are aware, he has suffered from cognitive impairments resulting from the excessive mold exposure. One of Steve's treating physicians at Duke has rendered a medical opinion that Steve Jones is not capable of performing the general manager functions at his dealership," reads a statement issued by Jones' attorneys at Van Camp, Meacham and Newman in Pinehurst.
Attorneys for Jones appeared in court Thursday, and a probable cause hearing was scheduled for April 3.
The law firm's statement says the North Carolina Industrial Commission and the North Carolina Court of Appeals have concluded that Jones is "totally disabled from employment."
Steve Jones, the owner of Steve Jones Honda in Aberdeen, was arrested on Feb. 28 and charged with more than 160 counts relating to improperly selling vehicles, including 86 felony counts of obtaining property by false pretense. He is also charged with 77 misdemeanor charges of temporary marker violations and failure to deliver a vehicle title.
The charges stem from complaints lodged with the DMV from people who bought cars from the dealership.
Jones' attorneys said in the statement that a general manager was hired in March 2012 to run the dealership.
"His authority was complete," the statement says of the general manager. "Steve took no part in the management and operation of Steve Jones Honda."
Art Allen is the general manager of the dealership. When contacted about the statements and asked for a comment, Allen said his attorneys have told him not to discuss the matter.
The statement goes on to say the general manager fired the dealership's title manager last June. That title manager was certified by the DMV and authorized to collect the $59 application fee. When he was terminated, the new title manager was not certified and had no authority to collect the $59 fee. The computer program still had the collection fee included until September 18, 2012, when the error was discovered and the dealership immediately stopped charging the $59.
"Steve did not have any personal knowledge of this issue, directly or indirectly," the statement reads.
The total amount collected by the incorrect application fee was approximately $4,450.
State authorities investigating the case seized multiple files of car sales and trades, temporary marker books, payment records and other paperwork, according to a search warrant that was served on Feb. 28.
The warrant indicates that the DMV investigators "substantiated approximately 362 violations in 179 files." Approximately 70 of these violations are for charging customers a $59 electronic filing fee for work they did not process, but that was processed by the License Plate Agency, the warrant says.
The search warrant says that between Jan. 1, 2012, and Feb. 27, 2013, Steve Jones Honda sold numerous cars to consumers and alleges that the dealership committed violations such as obtaining property by false pretense, temporary marker violations and failure to deliver a title.
The warrant indicates that obtaining property by false pretense occurred when Steve Jones Honda sold trade-in vehicles to a new purchaser before satisfying outstanding liens and obtaining clear titles, which negatively affected the customer'-s credit.
The statement addressed the issues with the titles, saying that "most if not all were corrected and resolved," and that Jones had "no knowledge of the title issue."
Representatives from the DMV have said that the investigation is ongoing and could be lengthy.
"They are still investigating fielding complaints and trying to get individual titles clear," said Marge Howell, a spokesperson for the DMV. "It is a lengthy process and they anticipate at least a couple more months of work."
Attorneys for Jones said in the statement that the DMV has never interviewed him about any of the allegations.
The statement also says Jones, who has owned the dealership for 15 years, is working to resolve all issues as soon as possible.
"To the extent that any customer of Steve Jones Honda has not received any title or document for which they are entitled, Mr. Jones will make sure that these matters are resolved promptly. To the extent that any customer was inadvertently charged $59 in connection with their transaction, these customers will be reimbursed the fee."
Anyone who thinks they might be affected by questionable transactions with Steve Jones Honda are asked to contact Moore County's DMV License and Theft Bureau at (910) 944-3628 or (910) 944-3624. They are asked to call between 8-10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or tembrey @thepilot.com.
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