Customers claim fraud as SLED, DMV investigate Midlands dealership

Customers claim fraud as SLED, DMV investigate Midlands dealership

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - For almost a year, Banks Parmley saved up for a new car with at least six seats. Two seats were for he and his wife while the other four were for his four children.

Parmley was planning to take his young family to Disney World for the first time.

"Chevy Traverse was my wife's pick, so that's really what we were going for," Parmley said. "I found a few cars. One really stuck out. It was one in West Columbia."

Last November, Parmley drove from his home in Rock Hill to S&D Auto Sales on Airport Boulevard in West Columbia, where he test drove a 2009 white Chevrolet Traverse and quickly realized it was the perfect car for his family's Disney trip.

"We had already reserved a hotel. We had planned on getting down there and paying for the tickets at the time we got down there. That way, it wasn't all paid for at once. We tried to make it kind of a process to make it affordable for us, and, you know, the car was perfect -- DVD player, seven seats, it fit my family perfect," he said.

Banks Parmley left S&D Auto Sales with this 2009 Chevrolet Traverse. (Source: WIS)

Despite the surprise, documents show Parmley later paid the fee. He left that November day with the car and a 45-day temporary paper tag. Everything was good until that 45-day tag expired in early January."You know, I said, 'I've got the money, Serg. Do you got the title?' He said, 'Well, I'm a dealership.' And we had agreed on a price of $7,500," Parmley remembered. "So he said, 'Well, because I'm a dealership, and so it won't affect my license, I have to process the title, and I have to give you registration and tags.' And he said, 'That's an extra $325.'"

Parmley said that same day, he returned to the dealership to pay for the car in full. He said he counted out $7,500 in cash to the dealer's owner, Serg Ratkovic.

Parmley wrote this check for an additional $325 for the title. (Source: WIS)

"Jan. 1 comes around and no tag, no title, no registration," Parmley said. "You know, I call him. He didn't answer at first."

Parmley, who said he used a separate phone to dial Ratkovic, later got him on the phone.

"He said, 'It's okay. Continue to drive the car. It's fine. If you get pulled over, I'm the one that's going to be penalized for it, because I didn't provide you with it,' and he said, 'But we're getting it sent off,'" Parmley said. "Ten days pass. I try to call him, and he doesn't answer. I text him. I say, 'Serg, where is this at?' He said, 'Well, I've filed the paperwork. We're waiting on DMV.' I called the DMV. The DMV says, 'Sir, what the VIN number?' I gave them the VIN number. They say, 'Sir, you're nowhere on this title. You're not registered to this car. We can't give you any information on this vehicle.' So I said, 'What do I do? I have the vehicle in my yard. I've paid $7,285 at this point to this man, and I cannot drive this vehicle.' And they said, 'You need to talk to an attorney.'"

So Parmley called up his family attorney, Neil Phillips.

"I think it's totally unfair. It's totally unfair. He acted in good faith," Phillips said.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles looked into Parmley's case after he complained.

"Our investigation revealed the dealership is in violation," the DMV agent wrote in a report.

That document suggests dealer Ratkovic didn't have possession of the Chevy's title. Instead, according to that document, it was still owned by his lender, which is commonly called a floor plan company in the auto industry.

"The best example I can use of a floor plan is someone who finances the operation for the dealer. Most dealers don't have the capital to buy five, six, 10, or 30 cars to put on their lot, so they'll go to a floor planner -- a financier -- who will front them the money so that they can purchase these vehicles," a DMV spokesperson said. "So, when the dealer goes out and purchases the vehicles, he, in turn, turns the titles into the floor planner. The floor planner will hold the title until the vehicle's sold. In the meantime, the dealer is paying interest on that loan until the vehicle's actually sold."

In response to Parmley's complaint, the DMV agent wrote, "Ratkovic owner of the dealership stated the dealership was experiencing financial problems due to family medical issues and was unable to pay off the floor plan."

"So it's a lien," Parmley said. "You know, it's a lien, which is exactly what he told me was not on the car and signed the lien affidavit. I wouldn't have bought the car if I knew it had a lien."

Parmley's complaint isn't the only one against S&D. Since March of last year, almost a dozen complaints have been filed and many of them contain similar allegations.

A Dealer History Record check shows S&D has failed to deliver titles multiple times since March 2016. The dealership has been sanctioned seven times by the DMV for title-related complaints.

This document shows the number of complaints against the dealership since March 2016. (Source: DMV)

Tiffany Raitt, who lives in West Columbia, said she financed a 2009 GMC Acadia from S&D back in April of last year, but Ratkovich failed to register her new car within 45 days of purchase. Documents suggest she received her tag on May 3, 2017, more than a year after she started financing the car.

Tiffany Raitt financed this 2009 GMC Acadia from S&D in April 2016. (Source: WIS)

Raitt recorded a short Facebook Live video blasting the West Columbia used car dealer. At last check, it's been shared almost 800 times.

"I can honestly tell you that my inbox is full from my video that I posted. I have been contacted by everybody," Raitt said.

"If there was anything fraudulent there, where would I be now? In jail, right," Ratkovic said.

Ratkovic explained, even though he's failed to deliver titles within 45 days, he's done nothing wrong.

"Okay, if I did, guess what? Then DMV would do something to me. SLED would do something to me. The court would do something to me," he said.

Serg Ratkovic is the owner of S&D Auto Sales. (Source: WIS)

However, Ratkovic and S&D Auto Sales are being investigated by both the DMV and SLED. Still, Ratkovic said he's being unfairly attacked by customers who aren't paying their bills on time.

Banks Parmley points out he paid in full.

"S&D Auto Sales never provided me, to this day, with a clear title or any form of apology," Parmley said.

Parmley and his attorney had to work directly with S&D's lender to get the title released, and that finally happened back in April. Coincidentally, it happened during his family's Disney trip, but he had to use a different car to get there.

As for the 2009 Chevrolet Traverse, he says it's cost him more than money.

"Days that, you know, my family wasn't smiling at the dinner table," he said. "We were in confusion. And money can't pay for that. Those are things that money can't pay for. Those are things that my kids shouldn't have been around."

For now, S&D and Ratkovic are still in business. Parmley and others want to know why. We took those questions to Karl McClary, inspector general of the state DMV.

"That investigation did come into us," McClary said. "We are doing an administrative investigation. We're reviewing that report. Once we've reviewed it, we'll take the appropriate administrative action. We've also referred that matter to the State Law Enforcement Division, and they're conducting their independent investigation, and I can't comment on that."

But McClary spoke more generally, saying that dealers failing to provide a title or registration within 45 days are not uncommon issues.

"The law allows them 45 days from the time of purchase to the time they get their title and registration," he said. "The next thing we see is selling out of trust. That's people who are selling vehicles, and they don't actually own the vehicle. They don't have the title, and they can't provide that title to the customer."

For S&D, since March of last year, paperwork shows one violation for selling out of trust and six violations for failure to deliver titles within 45 days. Of the six, S&D took an average of 168 days to transfer titles and registrations to customers.

At the top of the list is Tiffany Raitt's title, which took 389 days to transfer. Those same documents suggest Ratkovic has racked up 28 points against his dealer's license.

"If they get up to 36 points within a 3-year period, then their license is revoked," McClary explained.

McClary admits it's a difficult process, DMV does use discretion, and there are some cases where DMV can't help.

"But if we find that they can't deliver to the customers or they're taking advantage of the customers, then we refer those matters over to the State Law Enforcement Division for them to take action in a criminal investigation," McClary said.

Of the eleven cases we reviewed since March 2016, DMV recommended three to SLED. As for the DMV's involvement, the road ends there. The agency doesn't have a way to charge a violator with a crime.

This is where state lawmakers could come in and change the law, a tactic McClary says he'd love to see happen.

"And, like I said, we know that this is not one of these high profile criminal cases that you normally see on the news. I think there are things that we could do if we had a law enforcement arm here at the DMV where we could focus on these people who are selling out of trust and these people who are failing to deliver titles within the 45 days," McClary said. "I think there are things that we could do. There are many surrounding states where the DMV does have law enforcement capabilities, and they're able to take more action than we are, and, you know, South Carolina being a state where we're not taking a lot of criminal action against them, this makes it a perfect place for the people who do want to commit crime to come and set up shop."

As for Ratkovic, he maintained he hasn't committed fraud and hasn't done anything criminal.

In a recent letter to DMV, he blamed the recent violations on financial problems with lenders and family health issues at home.

"I hope that you would please take everything in consideration and not revoke my license," he wrote to DMV. "I know my personal situation doesn't give me a right to ignore/neglect my responsibilities at work but unfortunately I am only human."

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