Crime & Courts

Wichita used-car dealer didn't give buyers titles, DA's Office says. It's closed now.

Teresa Molinaro opened 5 Star Motors at 2648 S. Oliver in 2016.
Teresa Molinaro opened 5 Star Motors at 2648 S. Oliver in 2016. The Wichita Eagle

Some customers say a Wichita used-car business didn’t give them their vehicle titles on time, and now the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office wants it to pay up.

Marc Bennett’s office asking a judge to order 5 Star Motors and its owner, Teresa Molinaro, to pay $100,000 in civil fines and penalties plus other costs after six customers complained that they didn't receive the legal titles to their vehicles within 60 days of purchase. A petition filed in Sedgwick County District Court on April 13 says not providing the titles within the allotted time constitutes deceptive and unconscionable business acts and practices, which violates a Kansas law that protects consumer rights.

Generally, it's illegal to drive a car you just bought without its title, and you also can't register it with the county treasurer. If the dealership doesn't provide a car title within 60 days, the sale is void and the buyer is entitled to a refund, Sedgwick County Assistant District Attorney Avery Elofsson has said.

Molinaro on Friday said the financing company she worked with to purchase the cars, NextGear Capital, has the titles. Because of a lawsuit she has pending against NextGear, she spoke only briefly about the delivery problems.

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"They titles are going to go out. They are being sent out," Molinaro said, adding that she's already contacted most of the customers affected. Others, she said, have her cell phone number.

One title was mailed recently to a car buyer named in the district attorney's petition, Molinaro said Friday.

"It's out of my hands," she said.

Molinaro opened the dealership at 2648 S. Oliver, near Pawnee, in 2016. At that time she told The Eagle she wanted to offer customers shopping for used cars an array of financing and low-pressure sales.

5 Star Motors closed on March 1 because of the issues with NextGear, Molinaro said.

Her lawsuit alleges NextGear decreased her credit line from $350,000 to $100,000 on Feb. 24 after she'd already "purchased a numerous amount of cars and sent them out in trust without having knowledge of her line of credit being decreased." NextGear didn't like another party who was involved in her business, she says in the suit.

Molinaro is acting as her own attorney in the matter.

The petition filed by Bennett's office against 5 Star Motors says the dealership failed to “provide legal title” within 60 days to:

  • A customer, identified in the petition as “CR,” who bought a 2004 Dodge Ram 1500 for $13,821.35 on or around Jan. 6. That customer filed a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of Bennett’s office on March 19.

  • A customer, “RS,” who bought a 2008 Honda Civic for $11,332.05 around Jan. 17. That customer filed a complaint on March 30.

  • Two customers, “CL” and “KL,” who bought a 2009 Honda Accord for $11,089.60 around Feb. 7. Those customers filed a complaint on April 6.

  • A customer, “JC,” who bought a 2013 Kia Optima for $16,698.30 around Feb. 12. That customers filed a complaint April 5.

  • A customer, “JF,” who bought a 2014 Chevrolet Sonic for $14,572.80 around July 19, 2017. That customer filed a complaint on April 9.

It seeks $10,000 in civil penalties for each violation of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act – a total of $100,000 in this case – plus restitution for the affected customers and other costs. The petition also asks that 5 Star Motors be ordered to give all future car buyers the legal title to their vehicles on time.

A court hearing is set for July 5, according to court records.

Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker