State and local officials seized two businesses and 130 cars valued at about $1 million Thursday, accusing the owners of rolling back odometers, a charge they had faced before but resolved by refunding money to affected customers.
J D’s Auto Sales in Forest Park, where 100 cars were on the lot, and JDS Auto Sales in DeKalb County near Decatur, where there were about 30 cars, were padlocked while law enforcement officers pursue racketeering charges against the owners.
John Emomwen Egbe, 50, was arrested moments after he arrived at the lot on Jonesboro Road in Forest Park Thursday morning. An arrest warrant was issued for his son, Sylvester Emomwen Egbe, 27. The younger owner had gone to an auction to pick up more cars for the business, according to Josh Waites with the Georgia Department of Revenue.
In addition to the cars, state and local police seized more than $97,000 in cash that was discovered in a safe in the dealership business office.
“The reason arresting these people is so important is because they are taking advantage of those that are least able to be stolen from,” said Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson. “It tends to be single moms who need transportation and can’t go to a dealership and buy a new car. So they give their hard-earned money to these defendants who rip them off.”
Before the raid in Forest Park, Richard Trinkwalder, an agent with the state department of revenue, had a list of 33 cars they expected to find and the estimated cost to consumers for rolling back odometers on just those cars was almost $202,000.
Instead of finding 33 cars, at the Forest Park dealership, law enforcement found more than 100, Waites said.
Waites said it was not yet known if any of the seized cars had been cloned, meaning a new VIN number had replaced the original one to hide the fact that the car was stolen or a troubling history.
John Egbe, standing with his hands cuffed behind his back in the cold, denied he had been rolling back odometers, which officials allege in some cases were by as much as 200,000 miles. Waites said they would make cosmetic improvements to the cars so they would pass for much lower mileage.
According to Trinkwalder, the Egbes are initially charged with two counts each of false swearing and title fraud. Trinkwalder said officials also expect to bring racketeering charges. He said 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. Racketeering carries a punishment of five to 20 years in prison plus a substantial fine, depending on the value of the property seized.
The Jonesboro Road dealership included models such as Chevrolet, Nissan and a Jaguar. Officials were also using dogs trained to search out drugs to check each car on the lots.
According to Waites, the cars seized in DeKalb County will be stored on the lot in Clayton. Both lots are padlocked and Lawson is in the process of having the businesses put in control of a receiver. Lawson said victims may be entitled to restitution, and they should call 770-477-3450.
The yet-to-be-named receiver will determine what happens in the cases of anyone with pending business with the lots.
According to Waites, the Egbes used an electronic device that is otherwise designed to change odometer readings for legitimate reasons. With newer cars, it only takes the “odometer correction device,” a computer-savvy operator and a few minutes to make the changes that up the value of a car.
Department of revenue officer Waites said other similar raids will be coming later.
JDS Auto Sales is the name of the DeKalb dealership on Covington Highway near Decatur. Waites said there were only a few employees at JDS Auto Sales when police and state officers crashed on to the property at the same time as the raid in Forest Park and none of them were taken into custody.