Target 2: Gov. signs car sales fraud law based on Standard Pre-Owned case
Gov. Tony Evers has signed a law that cracks down on fraudulent car sales in response to the Standard Pre-Owned case in Northeast Wisconsin.
The bill was written by State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and State Rep. Dave Steffen (R-Green Bay). It passed the legislature with bipartisan support.
The lawmakers were inspired to change the law as an investigation continues into vehicle consignment business Standard Pre-Owned, which had locations in Suamico and Kaukauna.
Target 2 Investigates broke the story in May of 2016 after investigators served a search warrant at the Suamico location. Investigators identified the owner as John Solberg.
The warrant says John Solberg would contact people trying to sell cars on Craigslist and offer to do it for them. Investigators say Solberg “refused to pay… the owners… after the sale." They also accused him of selling vehicles for a lower price or refusing to return cars to their owners.
The case started with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in 2011. The Brown County Sheriff's Office started their investigation in 2016. It is now in the hands of federal authorities.
“From 2014 to 2016, dozens of vehicles on consignment at the car dealership Standard Pre-Owned were sold despite the original vehicle owner not being notified or receiving compensation. While complaints flooded into DOT, more Northeast Wisconsin residents found themselves defrauded by Standard Pre-Owned as the lengthy and tedious process of license revocation failed to protect Wisconsinites in these consignment sales," reads a statement from Sen. Cowles.
The law simplifies the process for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to deny, suspend or revoke certain licenses. It also allows the DOT to address "the most severe cases of fraud."
Before this law was signed, a fraud claim would go before the Division of Hearings and Appeals. That was known to take three-to-six months, or longer,
"We want to be able to move this down to a few weeks to a month," Cowles told Target 2 Investigates. "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 bill does have parameters so businesses could not be shut down without cause or without valid complaints. It does allow for appeals.
In 2018, John Solberg told Action 2 News that he was not the owner of Standard Pre-Owned, but just an employee. Solberg said three victims from Standard Pre-Owned have been paid. He says some of them were paid in "creative ways."
Target 2 dug through online records with the Division of Hearings and Appeals and found 25 victims were paid from a $50,000 surety bond. Standard Pre-Owned was required by law to have one of these bonds.
The money the victims lost far exceeded that $50,000. Their settlements were pro-rated with each victim receiving about 18 cents for every dollar lost.
"Before just with the length of due process, when they knew the deed was going down, you're looking at several months before there was a hearing to revoke your dealership license," says victim Trevor Bosar. "In that time, if they had shut them down when they they had the first couple complaints, I would have still had my car."
Court records show another lawsuit filed by victims is scheduled for trial later this year.
A case in Forest County involving a victim from the Suamico location was settled in 2017. A judge said, "Solberg owned the Suamico business ... [he] owes the claim for money."
The judge continued, "court finds that John Solberg is not credible and feels all testimony by him is untrue."
We asked Solberg about the case. He says they do online court records differently in Forest County and he doesn't know who said that.