Criminal charges for illegal used car deals, Fresno buyers in limbo

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Shah Tork works at a north Fresno dealership that hasn't been in his name for at least six years, and prosecutors say he's still acting as a car dealer. (KFSN)

A Fresno used car dealer, accused of leaving buyers in a legal limbo, is now facing criminal charges.

"He's going to take your money away and he's never going to give you a title and you're going to lose the money and the car," said Manuel Casillas, an alleged victim.

Shah Tork works at a north Fresno dealership that hasn't been in his name for at least six years, and prosecutors say he's still acting as a car dealer.

Four receipts totaling more than $23,000 are the proof Manuel Casillas paid cash for the Lincoln Navigator he's driven since August 2015. The contract shows he paid hundreds for registration and a title transfer fee. But several months later, he realized his tags expired and the DMV told him the SUV was not in his name.

"At that point, you don't even own the car you paid for?" a reporter asked him.

"No. Basically, we didn't own the car that I was driving," Casillas said.

So, for 18 months, when he drove to work or to get his kids to school, he could've gotten in trouble.

"I had to drive every day so that was my first fear," Casillas said. "They're going to stop me. They're going to take my car and that's it. We're going to lose our money because basically, we didn't own the car at the time."

He bought it at a dealership on Fresno's Blackstone Avenue. It went by a different name back then -- Auto Center of Fresno instead of Fresno Auto Deal. But the ownership is essentially the same.

Casillas says Shah Tork was in charge in August 2015 and although Tork walked away when he saw our cameras, an employee told us he's also in charge now.

Consumer protection attorney Alicia Hinton says changing names at used car dealers is a sign buyers should probably avoid them.

"They pop up for a few years under one name like Shah Tork did," Hinton said. "The DMV puts the heat on them, they get in trouble. They close that dealership. They open it right back up. It's a brand new name. It's the same dealer."

But Tork actually isn't allowed to be a dealer. Glory Verduga filed bankruptcy documents last year claiming he set her up as a figurehead owner in 2011 because he couldn't be a licensed dealer. But she said Tork still had absolute control over the business.

Prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges against Tork for illegally acting as a dealer last November. The DMV confirmed Tork doesn't have a dealer's license, although he has a license to sell cars.

They wouldn't comment beyond that, though, because of pending criminal and administrative cases against Tork.

Casillas finally got title last month, but he's hoping the pressure on Tork will protect consumers from getting stuck in the same kind of bad deal.

The consumer protection attorney Alicia Hinton is presenting a free "Protect Yourself from Auto Fraud" event at Los Panchos restaurant at 1000 Fulton Mall from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22 with speakers who specialize in consumer protection. You can RSVP by calling (559)328-4800.

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