WMBF Investigates: Customers claim car breaks down between the car lot and their home

WMBF Investigates: Customers claim car breaks down between the car lot and their home

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The blue minivan sits in the front yard of Candice and Daniel Neumann’s home now but it may as well still be on Ocean Auto’s car lot.

“We’re just kinda stuck," Daniel Neumann said. “I missed three days of work because I counted on the van.”

The couple found the used car on Facebook’s Marketplace and thought everything seemed legit.

“Looked alright, took it for a five minute test drive,” Daniel Neumann said. “It seemed like it drove fine, you know, so we gave him the cash, headed down the road a few minutes.”

The couple said minutes later the car starting overheating. They pulled over, then a tire blew out.

“We were sitting on the side of the road with a flat and we could just see smoke throughout the whole front of the windshield,” Daniel Neumann said.

The couple remembers brown, rusty water shooting out from under the hood.

“We just pretty much broke down and about gave up,” the Neumann’s said.

They said at first the man who sold them the car, Gino Jones, instructed them through what to do, even brought them a spare tire and offered to tow the car back to the shop. They said he didn’t offer a refund or another vehicle.

“I begged him. I said, ‘Please just give us the value of the car or our money back or a vehicle of value that we gave you," Candice Neumann said.

The Neumanns paid $1,500 and knew the car wasn’t perfect, but they said they counted on the car for work and borrowed money to buy it in the first place.

“We aren’t rich. We got three kids. We don’t have a lot of money,” the couple explained. “I work two jobs just to make by with what we got. We expected to do some stuff to it, not be a perfect A1 car, but we thought we would at least be able to make it home and go from there with it.”

Gino Jones told WMBF Investigates that the Neumanns were negligent in continuing to drive the car while it was overheating. He also said the car was sitting on the lot for years and they agreed to buy the car ‘as is.’

Jones said he offered to have the car towed back to the shop where he claims he would have looked at it for free and repair it.

The Neumanns said they later found out it was a salvage vehicle and also claimed they weren’t told it was an ‘as is’ purchase.

Jones said he is still open to fixing their car after an apology for what he claimed was bad treatment by the Neumanns and for a price.

But some said it’s a situation and offer that isn’t new.

Court case after court case in Horry County paint similar stories.

“The Defendants then represented that he would repair the vehicle at no charge to the Plaintiff. He then kept the vehicle for approximately two months but made no repairs," states one 2017 civil suit.

Other court documents describe a church unable to get their deposit back after finding a van to be unsafe, a woman’s car being stolen and later crushed by the business, and a promised rebuilt engine failing immediately after purchase.

The business has an 'F' rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) with numerous complaints listed for “Problems with Product/Service” and “Advertising/Sales Issues.”

Surfside Beach attorney Sid Connor has represented consumers in multiple cases against Jones and Ocean Autos.

“It’s always the same thing,” Connor said. "People complaining because they purchased a car that doesn’t work or the title is defective or it’s a salvage vehicle, any number of things.”

One of those cases was Donna Guevremont back in 2014.

“I drove the car home and my husband followed behind me and he called me on the phone and said, ‘This car is smoking.’ He said, ‘Something was wrong with that engine,’ and so immediately I called Gino Jones and let him know that I want my money back," Guevremont said.

She said Jones guaranteed the engine was new in writing and offered to fix it.

“And I said, ‘I’m not paying no more for that car,’ you know? I paid enough and I didn’t get to drive it for only about three or four days at the most," Guevremont said.

She won her case in court and placed a $17,000 judgement against Jones and the business.

“I was hoping he was going to stop soon after we won the lawsuit because nobody should have to go through that and people work hard for their money and to lose it like that and not have a car too," Guevremont said.

However, the complaints still continue.

Connor said he works with his clients to submit complaints to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Department of Consumer Affairs, but said the complaints seem to fall on deaf ears.

“Nothing ever seems to happen. It’s really kind of sad," Connor said.

South Carolina’s DMV office confirms that complaints were filed against Jones for mechanical and warranty issues but said they were out of their jurisdiction.

Instead a DMV spokesperson said dealers need to "get a certain amount of points in a certain time period before steps towards revocation can begin."

The state’s consumers affairs office has nine complaints listed for the business, however the department said it doesn’t have any legal ability to do anything about the complaints unless they are related to false advertising or closing fees.

“It makes me concerned about the current administration and whether or not they are truly concerned about consumers because we just never get any attention,” Connor said. “I don’t know how many times people have complained about Gino Jones and Ocean Auto.”

Horry County isn’t the only place where Jones name is known in the courtroom.

WMBF uncovered numerous criminal charges dating back to the 1990s’ in Maryland, including false advertising, dealing without a license. He was even sentenced to ten years in prison for felony theft.

In the early 1990′s, Jones ran ads to collect cars for charity but instead sold the cars through an unlicensed dealership he created, according to articles from the Baltimore Sun.

Later in 2009, Jones was sentenced to prison in Maryland for failing to file income taxes in Maryland when he operated a used car business in the early 2000′s, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.

Back in South Carolina, Ocean Autos has an active state license for its dealership. The dealership and business, however, is listed to Paula McDonald not Jones. WMBF was unable to reach the owner.

Businesses in Horry County must also have a county license, and the business license office said Ocean Auto hasn’t had a business license since 2014.

Meanwhile, the complaints continue.

“I think it’s several fold,” Connor said commenting on why cases continue to happen against the business. “The consumers who are purchasing cars on this level, we are talking about under $5,000, those consumers are typically very poor and typically don’t have a voice. That’s one of the big problems because there is no way for them to get their message to Columbia other than filling out complaint forms.”

But departments, like Consumer Affairs and the DMV, are restricted on when and what they can do with those complaints.

“I don’t know what happens to them but people like Ocean Auto are still in business so I can only conclude they aren’t doing their job,” Connor said. “It’s an issue of the squeaky wheel gets the greasy and these folks aren’t able to have a voice.”

Daniel and Candice Neumann said they have no choice but to chalk the car up as a loss and try to invest in fixing it.

“Hopefully it doesn’t happen to the next person,” the Neumanns said. "That’s all we care about, hopefully he doesn’t do it to another person.”

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