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Attorney General Lockyer Obtains Conviction in Massive Vehicle Registration Fraud Case
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced an Alabama man was convicted on Friday of felony charges for issuing false vehicle titles in a scam that has cost the State of California millions of dollars in lost tax revenues and license fees.
"This illegal operation provided false information regarding the purchase of expensive vehicles to hundreds of Californians, which allowed them to avoid smog requirements and pay reduced sales taxes and vehicle registration fees," Lockyer said. "At a time when California and its residents are forced to confront painful budget choices, these scam artists defrauded the state and all law-abiding taxpayers who have done their part to get through our economic slump. We will continue to investigate to ensure these tax cheats are brought to justice."
Richard Clark Weaver, 56, of Birmingham, Alabama, was convicted of providing fraudulent vehicle purchase agreements to California residents. The agreements, which were obtained for a $200 fee by mail, falsely indicated the year the vehicle was manufactured and that it had been purchased from Weaver at a low price. With these false documents, Californians were then able to avoid smog regulations and register their vehicles at a lower value, resulting in the loss of millions of tax dollars and registration fees. Weaver's company, Titles Unlimited, is believed to have provided false documents to Californians that cost the state more than $1 million in tax revenues and license fees over the past two years, and as much as $14 million since 1975, when the company began operating.
Weaver was convicted by Sacramento Superior Court Judge James Morris on April 2 on felony charges of offering false registration documents. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 7, and faces up to three years in California prison. In addition to his prison sentence, he may also be required to forfeit the profits he made from issuing false documents for 613 vehicles in California.
Of the 613 vehicles identified as having been licensed in California with documents from Titles Unlimited since 1999, more than 150 were Cobra "kit" or "replica" cars. These specially constructed vehicles typically are built out of components from several manufacturers and do not have a vehicle identification number assigned to the whole vehicle. The "kit cars" were purchased for $40,000-$60,000, yet were usually registered as older Fords in California with a value of $500. In one incident, a Cobra was purchased for $120,000, but was registered as a $70,000 1964 Ford to avoid state fees and smog requirements. The Attorney General's Office conservatively estimates that the loss to the state in taxes and license fees for just those 150 "kit cars" is at least $500,000.
The investigation began in October 2001 when the Yolo County District Attorney's Office began looking into the fraudulent registration of a 2000 Superperformance Cobra that had been titled in Alabama. Former Woodland police officer Terry Brown purchased the vehicle without an engine or transmission for $37,480. He installed a new Ford MotorSprot 351/392 CID 430-horsepower engine, bringing the value of the completed vehicle to $51,358.
For a $200 fee, Brown purchased an application for a bill of sale with Titles Unlimited, which registered his vehicle in Alabama as a 1965 Ford Cobra convertible valued at $13,500, and then reconveyed the title to Brown. Brown then used that document to fraudulently register his vehicle in California. The Attorney General's Office prosecuted Brown, who pled guilty in April 2002 to making a false statement to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Brown was required to perform 80 hours of community service, correctly register his vehicle and pay $655 in registration fees and $2,375 in taxes.
The Attorney General's Office continued investigating Titles Unlimited, enlisting the help of the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force, which includes attorneys and agents from the Attorney General's Office and deputies the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office. The California Highway Patrol assisted in the investigation, helping to serve 20 search warrants on Californians who had registered their cars with documents from Titles Unlimited.
On Friday, Judge Morris also issued arrest warrants for four Californians who sold replicas and helped their customers avoid smog requirements and fraudulently register their cars in California using false documents and forged vehicle identification numbers. Warrants were issued for Lance Stander and Kimberly Marie Calder, both of Tustin, owner and employee, respectively, of Hilbank Motor Corp. in Costa Mesa; Dean Alan Woodruff of Alta Loma, owner of Woodruff's House of Cobras in Anaheim; and Craig Hill of Livermore, owner of Top of the Hill Performance Center in Livermore.
To date, the on-going investigation has identified at least five other out-of-state companies that have provided fraudulent vehicle purchase agreements and titles to California vehicle owners. The companies are in Alabama, Nevada, New York and Florida. The Attorney General's Office believes as many as 70,000 vehicles have been illegally registered in California through these scam operations.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles is in the process of canceling registrations that involve documents obtained from Titles Unlimited. The Attorney General's Office also has notified law enforcement officials in more than 20 counties regarding residents who titled their cars through the company for possible prosecution.