Action 9 investigates auto dealers pretending to be private sellers

Action 9 has a warning about used car dealers pretending to be private sellers and unloading bad vehicles without any consumer protection.

Action 9 has a warning about used car dealers pretending to be private sellers and unloading bad vehicles without any consumer protection.

A local woman lost $2,000 trying to buy a vehicle, so she contacted consumer investigator Todd Ulrich, who found the “hidden dealer” has a criminal record.

“This is the car that I bought, a 2008 Jetta,” Leah Johnson said she saw the car on Facebook Marketplace. A private seller was asking $2,000 for the car.

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“Did you think it was his own car he was selling?” Ulrich asked.

“Yeah,” Johnson replied.

She went to an apartment complex, met Lawrence Lockhart and bought the car.

But the invoice showed he worked for a licensed car dealer and was apparently selling vehicles he bought from the auto auction. Johnson paid cash anyway and drove away.

“Actually, when I left that day the dashboard was giving me all these warning lights,” Johnson said.

Fearing transmission failure and since she had a warranty, Johnson asked Lockhart to take the car back.

“He said, ‘Okay I'll give you a refund,’ and now every day it's been a different story,” Johnson said.

Two weeks later, she was still waiting on a refund so she contacted Action 9.

Action 9 recognized Lockhart from a previous investigation. Ulrich had first exposed him while he worked at Reliable Motors in Orlando, where customers had paid for vehicles he failed to deliver. And Lockhart is serving probation for a financial crime at another dealership.

Reliable Motors closed after our stories, the state is investigating.

But now Lockhart seems to be using another dealers license to sell cars again.

Ulrich went to the address where he sold the car, that’s the same address listed on his probation paperwork. There was no response from Lockhart.

Ulrich contacted the South Florida dealership he was linked to. Its owner said Lockhart was not authorized to place private seller ads and the dealer will give Johnson her money back.

“He was going to take my car and my money and run,” Johnson said of Lockhart.

Buying from private sellers can save you money on quality vehicles. Verify it’s a private sale by asking to see registration and insurance information. Use Carfax to check sales and repair history and consider an independent inspection before you pay.