Florida Used Car Dealer Guilty of Odometer Fraud – Slap on the Wrist?
According to a story run in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel a Florida used car dealer thought to have rolled-back odometers on perhaps a hundred cars, pleaded no contest to odometer fraud charges involving 13 cars, and fraud and other charges, a couple of years ago (April 29, 2010).
Marc Plotnick, former owner of Plotty’s Discount Motors in Stuart, Florida was facing a potential sentence of 140 years of jail time on odometer fraud and other felony charges. What Plotnick got from the court was a slap on the wrist by comparison. The former used car dealer received an 8 month jail sentence, a year of house arrest and three years of probation. Prosecutors in Plotnick’s case had made a sentence recommendation of 14 months in prison as part of his plea agreement, but Judge Steve Levin thought otherwise. As a special condition to Plotnick’s sentence, the Court ordered that Plotnick was “not permitted to participate in any car business of any type – no sales to any customer” according the docket entries reported on the Martin County’s Clerk’s office. (But see: Part II of this story about Plotnick entitled - ”Convicted Florida Dealer Allowed Back in the Business?“)
Plotnick told Judge Levin at sentencing, “It had a lot to do with greed.” Interestingly, several of Plotnick’s car buying customers to Judge Levin that Plotnick treated them fairly, often replacing cars or paying out of his pocket for repairs when they complained of problems. The Judge remarked “What you basically did was smile at these people, gave them a good attitude, and fooled them.”
EVERYBODY PLAYS THE FOOL… SOMETIMES – But this case is more than just playing cutomers for fools, and is not just used car salesman “puffery.“ Odometer fraud is both a state and federal crime. It’s one thing to tell a customer that the car was formerly owned by the proverbial “little old lady that only drove it to church on Sunday” and it’s quite another to actively tamper with and reset odometers on used cars to sell them for higher prices to unwary consumers… it’s a crime! While odometer fraud is not a violent crime, used car dealers like Plotnick create havoc for hundreds of car buyers.
In Florida, a car with an odometer that has been tampered with is “contraband” and cannot be legally driven on the roads of the State of Florida, and is subject to seizure by the police. See: “Unlawful acts in connection with motor vehicle odometer readings; penalties” Fla. Stat. 319.35 (4) “If any person, with intent to defraud, possesses, sells, or offers to sell any motor vehicle with an odometer that has been illegally adjusted, altered, set back, or tampered with so as to reflect a lower mileage than the vehicle has actually been driven, such motor vehicle is contraband and is subject to seizure and forfeiture by a law enforcement agency or the department pursuant to ss. 932.701-932.704.”
Plotnick was arrested in July, 2009 and again a month later for odometer fraud. He had admitted to having employees roll-back odometers to make the high-mileage cars appear more attractive to buyers. After nearly a month-long investigation, detectives with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office charged Plotnick his mechanic Charles Johns at Plotty’s Discount Motors with lowering the mileage on several vehicles to boost sales. In a rather low-tech scheme to defraud car buyers and hide the true milage on the odometer, electrical tape was placed over part of the odometer to hide the actual mileage, on certain cars… (and I thought that only Duct Tape had 1001 uses!)
Detectives said Plotnick could have rolled back odometers on as many as 100 cars in 3 years. But Plotnick pleaded no contest to odometer fraud charges involving just 13 cars, along with organized fraud and other charges.