Lawmakers taking action as car sales fraud investigation continues

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A fraud investigation launched at two Northeast Wisconsin vehicle consignment shops is prompting another push for new laws.

Standard Pre-Owned had locations in Suamico and Kaukauna before the business was shut down. Target 2 Investigates first reported about the business in 2016 after learning about hundreds of consumer complaints. CLICK HERE for our original report.

Local, state and federal authorities continue to investigate the alleged fraud. Victims sued the owners in court, claiming Standard Pre-Owned sold their vehicles but never paid them.

For a second time, lawmakers in Madison are taking action with a move to simplify and shorten the process of shutting down shady car sales.

"We are moving the law in that direction, making it much easier for the department to say, 'Hold it. We've got a problem here. This license has got to go,'" says State Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez)

Cowles and State Rep. Dave Steffen co-authored bills to fast track the state's ability to suspend or revoke the license of car dealers amid valid complaints.

In a letter to lawmakers from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the assistant deputy secretary writes that work is needed to prevent "another Standard Pre-Owned Auto situation."

Court records show victims in the Standard Pre-Owned case were filing complaints with the DOT back in 2011. The victims claimed that they lost thousands of dollars.

In 2016, the Brown County Sheriff's Office served a search warrant at the Suamico property and sent the case to the FBI. The federal authorities continue to investigate.

"Far too long. Far too long. A lot of people lost a lot of money," Cowles says.

There are laws to prevent fraud but the DOT says, "the process (is) cumbersome" and "leaves the DOT with no effective recourse where consumers are harmed."

The current process allows delays and appeals--sometimes lasting months. In the meantime, the business remains open and operating.

"We want to be able to move this down to a few weeks to a month," Cowles says. "If you have complaints, the agencies can go in there and make a decision and force this person to close their doors."

Cowles says the proposal does have parameters so businesses could not be shut down without cause or without valid complaints. It does allow for appeals.

"Now will this totally stop someone from defrauding someone? Probably not, but we think we can lessen the problem if we shorten this time frame," Cowles says.

By proposing these bills early in the legislative session session, Cowles is confident they'll progress and be up for floor votes in both chambers in the next few weeks.