HARRISON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX) - The owner of a now-closed Gulfport used car dealership and a man who worked for him have both pleaded guilty to an odometer tampering scheme that went on for years.
Oscar Baine and Jeffrey Savarese II, both of Long Beach, appeared in federal court Wednesday to face charges for the scheme.
Baine - who owned Oscar’s Used Cars on East Pass Road - admitted that he purchased high-mileage vehicles from wholesale automobile auctions, dealerships and individuals and arranged to alter the vehicles’ odometers to show lower-mileage readings.
The 41-year-old used car lot owner said he paid Savarese and others to change or alter the odometers. Baine admitted to then selling the rolled-back vehicles to unsuspecting customers for inflated prices.
Savarese, 35, also admitted that he began altering odometers for used car lots in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2011. He said he reset odometers on at least 200 vehicles for Baine.
In all, Baine admitted that a total of 387 vehicles he sold were rolled back between 2011 and 2014, resulting in consumer losses of more than $600,000. At times, Baine said the altered odometers and fraudulent titles included false mileages that were more than 100,000 miles less than the vehicles’ actual mileage.
WLOX first got reports that of odometer tampering happening at Baine’s car lot in 2014. We spoke with customers who reported discrepancies between the odometer readings and Carfax reports. Further investigation turned up former employees who worked at the car lot who said they quit when they saw what was going on.
Baine pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to alter odometers and one count of odometer tampering. Savarese pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to alter odometers. Both defendants are set to be sentenced before U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. on Oct. 17, 2019.
“The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting auto dealers who defraud consumers by selling vehicles with unlawfully altered odometers,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “Consumers rely on mileage information to assess the value and safety of a vehicle, and that information must be accurate.”
“These criminals put the public at risk by rolling back odometers and defrauding hundreds of people out of one of their biggest investments. I commend the investigators and prosecutors for bringing these criminals to justice and for protecting the public from further fraudulent acts by these two. We will remain vigilant as to these types of crimes and continue working to make our roads and communities safer for everyone,” said Mike Hurst, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Office of Odometer Fraud Investigation, assisted by the State of Mississippi Office of the Attorney General, investigated the case. The NHTSA estimates that odometer fraud in the U.S. results in consumer losses of more than $1 billion annually.
Individuals with information relating to odometer tampering should call NHTSA’s odometer fraud hotline at (800) 424-9393 or (202) 366-4761. More information on odometer fraud is available on the NHTSA website at https://www.nhtsa.gov/odometer-fraud and tips on detecting and avoiding odometer fraud are available at www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/nvs/pdf/811284.pdf.
*Mug shots have not been made available for either Baine or Savarese*