FRANKLIN, Wisconsin (WISN) — It is the script to the worst story Michael and Julie Gingras have not only seen, but lived: a thick pile of papers covering the dining room table of their Franklin home.
“It’s been horrible,” Michael expressed.
“A nightmare,” Julie quickly added.
Each page is a written record of the red flags they tried to find on the used car they badly needed, but never surfaced.
With just one car in the driveway, the vehicle they were seeking would balance the need to get Julie to medical appointments, Michael to work and be available to the Gingras children, the newer drivers in the home.
From their home, the couple searched online for a used car in Wisconsin as well as northern Illinois. In September 2022, they found a match through Car Gurus.
A 2015 Lexus ES 350. Red in color.
“It was clean. The price; it was in our price range. A little higher mileage wasn’t perfect, but it was still a nice car,” Michael said.
“It wasn’t overpriced like all the other cars had been,” his wife, Julie, added.
The Lexus was listed on the lot at Exclusive Motor Sales, about 90 minutes south in Addison, Illinois. Julie said the owner at the dealership, Mohammed Uddin, quickly responded to their interest online.
But before making the 81-mile trip south, the Gingrases did their homework, checking the vehicle’s listed vehicle identification number, or VIN, through several car history websites before they would agree to spend the $15,000 they saved to purchase the car outright.
“We were looking for any problems. We had come across cars that they said had no accidents but then had accidents,” Julie said, “So typically, there’s liens on cars for the price range that we were looking for. So we wanted to make sure there were no liens, and we also needed a car that would be insured by our insurance company.”
The VIN came back clean, the couple said. No red flags arose through any of the publicly available databases they checked.
They decided to move forward with the sale through Exclusive Motor Sales and its parent company Naas Enterprises, Inc., according to a copy of the bill of sale the Gingrases provided to 12 News Investigates.
The couple wrote a check on Sept. 6 for $14,694.00.
It was a welcome stop on their car-buying journey.
A detour to their dream was not far off.
It started when the Gingrases claim they couldn’t get the title for the vehicle from Exclusive Motor Sales, and the temporary tags on the vehicle were about to expire. Julie Gingras said Uddin stopped taking her calls.
Her next call was to the Illinois Secretary of State.
“They said, ‘Well, give it a little bit longer.’ We gave it a couple more weeks. They checked the VIN through their system there at the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, they said, ‘Everything’s fine.'”
No red flags from the Illinois Secretary of State database was only a bit of comfort. Two weeks after that conversation, Gingras said she filed a formal complaint with the Secretary of State. She said an investigator on the case sent the couple paperwork and told them to have the VIN number “verified” through local police.
With the car back in Franklin, the couple took the documents and the Lexus to the Franklin Police Department.
“They had us waiting there for quite a long time; about two hours. They weren’t letting us know what was going on. And then they came out, and they said, ‘Well, here’s the deal. It’s stolen.’ And we’re like, ‘what?'”
Yes, stolen. The car they purchased and had paperwork for, police told them, was not legally theirs.
“There was another officer that called the tow truck right away,” Michael Gingras said, “So it went from you know, ‘We’re gonna figure out what’s going on here,’ to ‘Get your stuff out. We’re taking your car.’ So just like just five minutes.”
There was nothing they could do as they watched their $15,000 roll away on the bed of a tow truck. The couple said Franklin police had to take them back home in a squad car.
But how was the car stolen despite no red flags in public searches and a state agency database.
The answer is inside a report from Hoffman Estates police, the department with jurisdiction over the vehicle’s original owner, Adesa Chicago.
According to the report, the Lexus was one of 11 cars Adesa Chicago sold to Uddin through another one of his companies, Aero Auto Works, Inc. The report said Uddin paid for the 11 vehicles with 11 separate checks totaling $152,920.
The report said Uddin and several associates were able to drive off with eight of the 11 vehicles, including the Lexus he would later sell to the Gingrases.
But days after the sale, the report said, Adesa’s bank reported all 11 checks from Uddin bounced.
A manager at Adesa told investigators Uddin had previously purchased vehicles and has been registered with ADESA since 2019, and “has never had any issues before this.”
“[He] stated he has attempted to contact Uddin regarding this matter. However, he has not heard back from Uddin after leaving several voicemails.”
With that information, Hoffman Estates police investigators considered the vehicles stolen.
The Gingrases said they, too, could not reach Uddin.
The front door at Exclusive Motor Sales on Westgate St. in Addison was locked when a reporter traveled to the business seeking comment from Uddin. Inside the darkened brick building, mail appeared to pile up on the floor. An open mailbox outside the business was stuffed with mail, which included a large envelope from Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias. The envelope and other mail could be seen plainly as one walks up to the front door of the business.
Hoffman Estates police took the report from Adesa Chicago in January 2022, eight months before the Gingrases bought the vehicle from Uddin and Exclusive Motor Sales.
So why did that information not show up in a public car history search?
“Hoffman Estates police said they don’t have to put it in public databases,” Julie Gingras said. “They’re not required to put it in public databases,” Michael added.
“They just put it in a database called LEADS that only law enforcement has access to. LEADS is the acronym for Law Enforcement Agencies Data System.
“We took [the Lexus] in for service to get the key done. And they, you know, they run the VIN, the Lexus dealership; Lexus Brookfield and it didn’t come up in there either.” It further baffled the Gingrases if the stolen car report was also not available to Lexus dealers.
A spokesperson for Hoffman Estates police declined to comment for this story, citing an ongoing investigation.
Initially, the Illinois Secretary of State told the Gingrases it would need a court order to determine ownership of the vehicle.
“While it is an unfortunate situation for which the Secretary of State sympathizes, the Secretary of State is not in position to be the arbiter deciding between 2 or more persons or entities claiming ownership of the vehicle at issue,” a letter the couple provided to 12 News from Assistant General Counsel Ronald Freeman.
The tone from the Secretary of State changed over the weekend and hours just before WISN 12 News was to broadcast the Gingrases story.
The couple forwarded an email it received from Freeman on Feb. 27 indicating the agency’s Department of Police conducted an additional investigation and was working with the Vehicle Services Department to issue the couple the title to the Lexus.
“Through that further investigation, we have been able to clear any further claims to ownership of the vehicle, leaving only your own. In which case, either our Department of Police or Vehicle Services Department should be contacting you soon to discuss the issuance of title and how to retrieve the vehicle. I truly do sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and I do hope this rectifies the matter,” Freeman wrote.
In an email to 12 News, a spokesperson for the Illinois Secretary of State said the case was complicated by “a unique collection of circumstances, including two automobile dealers who went defunct and a car that was falsely reported stolen.”
When asked to clarify how the vehicle was falsely reported stolen, the spokesperson said, “The vehicle which was purchased with a bad check is not considered a motor vehicle theft. Police departments generally do not take theft reports for these types of cases.” The spokesperson said once the Gingrases receive the title to the vehicle, they will own it outright.
“This is a nightmare that the Gingras family should have never experienced,” Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias said in a statement through the spokesperson. “To prevent situations like this from happening again, I’m establishing a specific unit within the Illinois Secretary of State Police dedicated to cases like this that will work closely with local police departments and share information from the onset.”
“I want to thank the WISN Investigative Team for highlighting this unique case and exposing the problems associated with it,” he added. “Based on the Gingras’ story, my office will take steps to not only resolve situations like these as quickly as possible but prevent them from happening in the first place.”
The new unit, according to the spokesperson, will be the Secretary of State Police and Vehicle Services Title Resolution Unit. It will have a goal of “protecting consumers by closing loopholes and enhancing communications between law enforcement authorities,” the spokesperson added.
Secretary of State records show two of Uddin’s car dealerships went out of business after the 11-car sale: Aero Auto Works in Feb. 2022 and Exclusive Motor Sales in Oct. 2022, a month after the sale to the Gingrases.
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