Curbstoning: A Taking Action Hidden Camera Investigation

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Have you heard of curbstoning? It is illegal in Alabama.  It involves the sale of many vehicles by people who are not licensed to sell them. In fact, although curbstoners often pose as a car's owner, they usually do not hold the title to the cars they sell.  WHNT News 19 has learned this disturbing trend is happening across the Tennessee Valley.

Our Taking Action Investigation begins with Joey Wise's story.  Wise responded to an ad on Craigslist by a man named Terry Starnes.  Wise tells WHNT News 19 that Starnes claimed to be a dealer and even have his own shop.  The ad Wise responded to was for a Suzuki Forenza just shy of $5,000 dollars.  Wise paid Starnes $1,900 as a down payment.  Shortly after, his communication with Starnes was cut off and eventually the phones were disconnected.

"You try to make an honest living," said Wise, and here is somebody who is ripping people off."

Wise lost that money, and Starnes now sits behind bars on several charges including theft of property.

As it turns out, law enforcement agencies across northern Alabama were on to Terry Starnes and his curbstoning ways.  Huntsville Police say Starnes wasn't a dealer, just simply a private citizen flipping cars for profit.  They say that's part of the issue with curbstoners.  In the state of Alabama, if you offer up or sale more than five cars per year, you are required by the state to have a dealer's license.   But not everyone is playing by the rules.

WHNT was tipped off about a pay-and-sell car lot in Huntsville called Quik-N-EZ at 8151 South Memorial Parkway.  There, we found two apparent instances of curbstoners, where several cars were up for sale with only one owner and one phone number to represent the vehicle.  Michele Mason, President of the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama walked the lot with WHNT News 19.

"Being out here at this lot just shows a prime example of how much there are still issues out there and people need to stay aware," said Mason.

We sent two WHNT News 19 employees to the car lot, armed with a hidden camera.  There we met up with a man who called himself Billy and another man who called himself Steve Hughes.  Both men were selling more than five vehicles on the lot.  Billy said he was representing a friend and Steve told us he was working for a dealer in Lacey's Spring.  Both men admitted to selling more than one car on the lot.  And that is another problem, according to Huntsville Police.

The city of Huntsville has an ordinance that clearly states you can't offer for sale more than one vehicle on a lot.  We decided to confront Steve Hughes about his business dealings.  We went back to the lot to get answers, but Hughes wouldn't admit to the cars being his and walked off the lot.

WHNT News 19 also called the owner of Quik-N-EZ for comment.  The owner said he didn't see a problem with having multiple cars for sale on his lot.  But Huntsville Police do.  They've issued multiple citations to the owner for allowing dealers on the lot.  They are now exploring the possibility of additional charges to the owner of the lot and the men selling multiple cars.