Three weeks after Jones 5 Auto Sales abruptly closed its doors and the Corvallis Police Department launched a criminal investigation into Shannon Jones’ used car dealership, no charges have been filed and potential victims say they’re still waiting for answers.
“There haven’t been any arrests made,” Lt. Cord Wood, a spokesman for the department, said Wednesday. “We’re still examining the situation as a whole to see exactly what’s there. It’s a complex case.”
Wood said it was still too early to say what kinds of criminal charges eventually might be filed in the case. He added that the department is working with state and federal agencies on the investigation, but he declined to specify which agencies are involved.
Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson also declined to discuss specifics of the case and said it could still be some time before formal charges are filed.
“I can confirm that the investigation is still ongoing,” he said on Wednesday. “There’s a complexity to it that requires a lot of work to put together.”
The case began on Nov. 18, when at least two car carriers pulled into the Jones 5 lot at 1475 N.W. Ninth St. and began loading up vehicles for transport. Police vehicles came and went throughout the day, and an officer stood watch over the showroom door while others searched the premises.
By the next morning, an “Out of Business” sign hung on the door and only a handful of vehicles remained on the lot, which had been packed with cars the day before.
Shannon Jones has not returned phone calls from the newspaper seeking comment on the situation and has disappeared from public view. That’s left dozens of area residents scrambling to find out what has become of the cars they had left with the dealership on consignment.
Three of those vehicles — a 2007 Honda Element, a 1993 Mercedes 300 sedan and a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am — were tracked by the Gazette-Times to the Manheim auction house in Portland, while others were impounded by the Corvallis Police Department as evidence. But police have refused to disclose how many vehicles have been seized or whether any of those vehicles have been released to their owners, saying that information could compromise their investigation.
Before it shut down, Jones 5 was advertising 37 vehicles for sale on its website, ranging from a 1990 Honda Accord going for $2,425 to a 2006 Dodge Ram pickup priced at $31,512.
It’s not clear where all those vehicles are now or how many may be subject to title disputes. What is clear is that there is no shortage of potential victims in the case.
A number of people have contacted the Gazette-Times to say they have yet to be paid for cars or trucks they consigned through Jones 5 and have not been able to recover their vehicles. Some did not want their names to appear in print, but others agreed to speak for the record.
Dub Winn said he sold a 1997 Ford F-250 pickup through Jones 5 on consignment, but never received the $2,700 selling price. Winn said the buyer, a local resident, still has possession of the truck, but both parties are waiting for the authorities to sort out the ownership question.
“We know where the truck is,” Winn said. “It’s just that (the buyer) doesn’t have the title, and we don’t have the cash.”
John Robinson placed a 2012 Cadillac SRX on consignment with Jones 5 at an asking price of $26,500. He was supposed to get his money on Nov. 18 — the day the dealership shut down.
Now he has no cash, no car and no title. He says he tried to file a stolen vehicle report with the police but they refused to accept it or even tell him whether they have his Cadillac or not.
“They won’t tell me anything,” Robinson said. “I don’t know where the car is, and if the cops know, they’re not telling me.”
Online reviews of Jones 5 Auto Sales hinted at possible problems with other transactions.
Two out of four customer reviews of the business were positive, lauding Jones for professional and courteous service.
But the other two spoke of serious financial issues with car purchases. One reviewer claimed the dealership failed to provide a title and registration after the sale, while the other complained Jones 5 failed to pay off a trade-in.
Another potential victim in the case is Next Gear Capital, an Indiana-based financing company that provides “flooring” loans to auto dealerships around the country. Such loans are typically secured by the titles of vehicles in the dealer’s inventory, and the titles are returned to the dealer once the loans are paid off.
People involved in the mid-valley auto industry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Gazette-Times that Next Gear Capital had a longstanding business relationship with Jones 5 Auto Sales and that one of its Oregon representatives was on the Jones 5 lot Nov. 18 as vehicles were being taken away on car carriers. Next Gear Capital is affiliated with the Manheim auction company, both of which are subsidiaries of Cox Automotive.
Next Gear Oregon account executive Jesse Curry, however, told the newspaper he was not allowed to comment on the Jones 5 case. Calls to Rick Wright, the company’s vice president for legal affairs, were not returned.
At least one regulatory agency was already looking into the Corvallis dealership before law enforcement got involved but has now handed the case over to Corvallis police.
“Our investigation started with a consumer complaint, but it wound up being a potential victim in a criminal case, so we turned our information over to them,” Larry Purdy, chief of investigations for the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division, told the Gazette-Times on Wednesday.
Purdy said his office has received calls from several other potential victims since then and has referred them to Corvallis police.
The DMV penalized Jones 5 Auto Sales earlier this year for failing to submit required fees and paperwork to the agency in a timely manner.
“If they sell the vehicle and they agree to process the title and registration for the customer, they have 30 days from the date of the sale to get that done,” Purdy explained.
During a routine inspection in January, a DMV agent determined that Jones 5 had failed to do that for two vehicles, Purdy said. In April, because the title and registration had not been submitted after 90 days, Jones 5 was fined $1,000 for each car.
Jones 5 also was cited, but not fined, by DMV for “record-keeping issues” that turned up during a January 2014 inspection, Purdy said.
While Corvallis police look into possible criminal activity involving Jones 5 Auto Sales, the DMV continues to try to sort out just who are the legal owners of the cars involved.
“Our concern is we want to get the titles to the rightful buyers,” Purdy said.
But he also cautioned that untangling the paperwork could be a lengthy process, especially if there is more than one person claiming ownership of a vehicle.
“We don’t make a determination as to legal ownership,” Purdy said. “That’s something that probably will have to be determined by a court at some point.”