Two metro car lots claim innocence in illegal sale that left woman with a car she can’t drive

KANSAS CITY, Mo -- For two months Sheila Reliford has had a car she can't get licensed because she doesn't have the title, even though she paid for the car in full the day she bought it.

"I'm very frustrated," said Reliford, a hard-working grandmother. "I'm frustrated because they conned me."

Reliford bought the car from a man who was advertising on Facebook Marketplace. But it wasn't a private sale.

The bill of sale she received states it was sold by A1 Motors, a Kansas City car lot that also gave her a temporary license tag. But A1 Motors said it was just helping her out by giving her the tag and isn't responsible for the fact she was illegally sold a car without a title.

"That's like being a little bit pregnant," said consumer attorney Bernard Brown, who has spent his career battling bad car dealers.

Brown said what many consumers don't understand is that when they are sold a car without the title, they don't own the car. With rare exception, buyers should get the title the day they get the keys.

But every year there are thousands of Sheilas out there stuck with cars they can't legally drive -- particularly in Missouri.

"Missouri law enforcement has a terrible history of not doing their job for people who don't get titles," Brown said.

Police, prosecutors, even the Missouri Attorney General have told people like Sheila that not getting a title is a civil matter. But Brown said it's fraud. It can wreck your life and dealers who do it should be prosecuted.

Several years ago Brown won a $1 million judgment against one bad car lot owner John Cooney who sold at least 35 cars without titles, and against Credit Acceptance Corporation, the company that provided the financing for the purchase of the car.

Carrie Peel was the one who bought the car from Cooney. By the time she realized that Cooney was never going to give her a title, he was out of business.

"I looked for this guy for two years, and I couldn't find him," Peel said.

But that didn't stop the Missouri Department of Revenue from wanting her to pay taxes on the car.

"They threatened to put a lien on any professional license I had," Peel said.

The great irony is that she had tried to pay the taxes, but the revenue department wouldn't accept her money because she hadn't registered the car -- because she didn't have a title.

It took years of legal wrangling by both Brown and attorney Dale Irwin before Peel got her life back.

Meanwhile, Reliford is still in the middle of her mess. That's why she called FOX4 Problem Solvers.

We paid a visit to A1's owner who identified himself only as Sam and insisted he wasn't responsible.

"She bought it from someone else. I was helping her out. I was the intermediate," he said.

Sam told us the guy really to blame Dan Nugyen used to work for him as a contract employee and now is connected to TBF motors in Blue Springs. Sheila had a series of text messages from Nguyen.

So we paid a visit to TBF Motors where the man in the office denied knowing anything and said he would call the owner. But we would could tell by looking at the phone that he hadn't actually dialed a number even as he pretended to talk to someone. Sheila later told FOX4 the guy in the office was the same guy who sold her the car, but he had denied that claim. He claimed he's just an innocent bystander. He said he'd never met Sheila and definitely never sold her a car.

After the fake phone call, he claimed not to know who Reliford is and then asked us to leave the office.

The next day, however, Reliford received a phone call offering all her money back. But the caller wanted her to first sign a release form absolving everyone from responsibility.

She refused. To solve this problem, FOX4 Problem Solvers put Reliford in contact with attorney Tom Mendel who will now fight for her court.

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