About 75 people have contacted the state or the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office to report they were victims of two dealerships that were raided and seized because of allegations they had rolled back odometers, some by as 200,000 miles.
“Every car we looked at (Thursday) had the odometer rolled back,” said Josh Waites, the lead investigator with the Georgia Department of Revenue, which handles car titles and registrations.
State and local officers seized used car businesses in Forest Park and DeKalb County on Thursday morning, along with 130 cars valued at about $1 million. They also seized more than $97,000 in cash that was discovered in a safe in the dealership business office.
J D’s Auto Sales in Forest Park and JDS Auto Sales in DeKalb County near Decatur were padlocked.
The father and son owners were in jail on Friday.
John Emomwen Egbe, 50, was arrested moments after he arrived at the lot on Jonesboro Road in Forest Park on Thursday morning. His son, Sylvester Emomwen Egbe, 27, turned himself in Friday afternoon.
Both are charged with two counts each of false swearing and title fraud, but law enforcement officers expect to build racketeering cases against them.
Waites said his office and the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office had received calls from people who had bought cars from the Egbes only to have major mechanical problems just days after driving off the lot. Some said they had been unable to get titles to their cars. Waites said some people ordered reports on the histories of their autos from Carfax to discover their cars were more used than they had been told at sale.
One woman, for example, came to the Forest Park dealership while officers were still at the scene. Waites said her husband had just paid the Egbes $6,000 for a car with an odometer reading of 130,000 miles, but state records show it actually had been driven about 195,000 miles.
Moments after the raid, the older man told reporters he had not rolled back any odometers.
State law treats the crime of rolling back an odometer as a misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to state revenue agent Richard Trinkwalder, who led the briefing before the raids, the Egbes had twice been charged with rolling back odometers and the case was dismissed when they agreed to refund the customers’ money.
Racketeering, however, carries a punishment of five to 20 years in prison plus a substantial fine, depending on the value of the property seized.
Waites said the Egbes were able to pass high-mileage cars with lower odometer readings because they would make cosmetic improvements to the cars.
According to Waites, the Egbes used an electronic device that is otherwise designed to change odometer readings for legitimate reasons, which meant buyers would spend far more than their cars were worth . With newer cars, it only takes the “odometer correction device,” a computer-savvy operator and a few minutes to make the changes that increase the value of a car.
Waites said each person who reported to the state or county prosecutors that they had bought cars with rolled back odometers would be interviewed. They could receive restitution.
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