Special Investigation: Selling Stolen Cars for Scrap

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News 12 at 6 o'clock, Nov. 28, 2007

AIKEN CTY -- Cars are missing in Aiken County. Some of them are being stolen and where they may end up is surprising. It's all apart of a News 12 Special Investigation. Scrap yards pay money for vehicles and while that's not unusual, Aiken County Investigators say Temple's Auto Parts is getting away with something. Taking in cars, some of them stolen. Because of what Investigators say is a loophole in the law. And area investigators are frustrated by it. Cars are being stolen here in Aiken County, and taken right into Lexington County.

Temple's Auto Parts in Batesburg, takes in cars and other vehicles. Some old, some new. Aiken County Investigators tell News 12 some of those vehicles are stolen.

"It really creates a nightmare," says Aiken Co. Investigator JD Sanders.

One of those stolen cars belongs to Sandy Stone. She used to have a red 1991 Nissan Sentra. To her - that stolen car is invaluable.

"That was the last car my late husband bought me," says Stone.

On September 11th of this year, Sandy came up to her house and found an empty lot. And that is where her 91 Nissan she says should have been.

"I had come up here to check the mail and I looked in my yard, checked other things out around here and noticed it was gone," says Sandy.

Two days later, she called up Temple's Auto Parts and that's when Sandy found out that her car - which was missing - was there.

Investigators say they've seen a spike in older vehicle thefts over the last year and a half. In just the last few months - Investigator Sanders says he's traced between 6 and 8 of those stolen vehicles back to Temples. As for the vehicle owners, investigators say they usually aren't happy.

"They get pretty upset, you know. Because they want something done," says Investigator Donald Ghant.

South Carolina State Law says a demolisher must keep accurate records of any abandoned vehicle they take in.

"And those records have to include the name, address of the person who brought the car in, the date the car was received or purchased by them. It has to have the year, make model and VIN number," says Investigator Sanders.

And by law, the demolisher is required to keep those records for at least a year.

News 12 went up to Temple's and talked with Russell Temples, the manager. He says, when a car comes in, they weigh the car and then...

"I get their drivers license number. I found out who it is," says Temples.

Then, he signs a check and says goodbye.

Gene asking, "Do you get all those records for every single car that come through here?"
Russell answering, "I didn't know..."

Gene asking, "But according to this state statute, you must get all this information. Do you - yes or no - get all of this information?"
Russell answering, "No, I do not get all of that information."

Gene asking, "And Temple's has been one of those businesses not doing this completely?"
Investigator Sanders answering, "That's primarily been my experience in doing this. It's the business we've had the most problems with."

Investigators say that's because incomplete records mean Investigators don't know who sold the vehicle. And without that, Investigators can't track down who's stealing the vehicles. How can Temple's continue to get away with this?

"There's no penalty. All there is, is a statute. There's no... there's no fine. There's no criminal punishment for this," says Investigator Ghant.

"If demolisher's don't keep the records, there's no way for us to bring criminal charges against them. There's no teeth in the law," says Investigator Sanders.

"And that's something I've worked on - asking people to bring documents proving that it is theirs," says Temples.

Gene asking, "What type of documents do you ask for?"
Russell answering, "Title mainly. And other than that, VIN number if they got them or proof of ownership."

This is different from what Russell told us earlier.. when he admitted he doesn't ask for the VIN number every time a car comes in. News 12 wanted to find out what really happens and told Russell we'd bring in an older model red truck. He says we'd weigh it and then...

Gene asking, "You write me a check and I walk out?"
Russell answering, "That's the way. That's right."
Gene asking, "You're not going to ask me for any information?"
Russell answering, "Your drivers license, ID, make the check out and put your drivers license number on there."
Gene asking, "That's all you're going to ask me for is my drivers license, ID, make the check out to my name and I'm gone?"
Russell answering, "Pretty much. That's right on a truck like that, yes."

The current statute does allow law enforcement to go in and inspect Temple's records.

"Temples doesn't - a lot of times - have the records there and available. He's told me in some of the cases I've worked up there, he would have to go get the records and see if he could locate them. Their records aren't there," says Investigator Sanders.

Meaning Investigators say the law is powerless to help people like Sandy Stone. So, what needs to be done?

"I think quite simply, put some criminal penalties in there. Something that would us authority to do something," say Investigators.

"So far from Aiken, I feel for sure we have worked hand over foot to help them out. I don't buy cars knowing it's stolen," says Temples.

If Investigators can prove Russell Temples bought the cars knowing it was stolen, then they could charge him. And an update - two weeks ago, Aiken County Deputies arrested David Quarles.. charging him with stealing three cars from a Windsor man's home. Aiken County tells News 12, Quarles is connected to Sandy Stone's car. Lt. Michael Frank says Quarles took her Nissan to Temple's in September and that Quarles is being investigated. He may be charged with stealing Stone's car.

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